After a season in which the Lady Eagles finished 13-16 overall and 9-7 in Region 5AAAAAA, and made an exit from the state playoffs with a first-round loss to Archer, it isn’t too hard to see why.
The team returns several key players from last season, including senior Taylor Kimber and juniors Tori Janos and Shakyna Payne. Sophomore Maya Opera-Nadi adds some height at the power forward position.
Kimber, a four-year letter-winner is a 5-foot-11 forward adept at playing the post and the perimeter.
Janos scored a career-best 37 points in the region tournament against Wheeler last year. She has started since her freshman season, is a smart, quick defender and serves as the team’s primary point guard.
Payne, Etowah’s leading rebounder and shot-blocker from last season, returns to play center. At 6-3, she often towers above opponents.
Bob Westbrook, in his 15th season at Etowah and 31st season as a coach, hopes this year’s team is able to move the Lady Eagles back to the top of Region 5AAAAAA and leave a mark in the state tournament.
“We have had some real good basketball teams in the past, and our expectations are extremely high once again this year,” said Westbrook, who coached Etowah to a state championship in 2005. “We are looking forward to getting back in the mix. The last two years, we have had very young basketball teams. Three years ago, we played all seniors and the last two years — I have never liked to use the word ‘rebuilding,’ but that is what we were doing.”
Those who played for Westbrook as sophomores and freshman are now juniors and seniors. With Etowah hosting the Region 5AAAAAA tournament at the end of the season, Westbrook would like to win the title at home.
Westbrook said several of his players are drawing collegiate interest, and he hopes that grows along with the team’s success. Kimber has signed to play at Alabama-Huntsville.
As far as the region is concerned, Westbrook believes his team will be near the top. Wheeler could pose a challenge, but most of the other teams in the region are mysteries, largely depending on young, unproven players.
“We are just very excited about the upcoming season,” Westbrook said. “We won a state championship back in (2005). We have had several good teams since then, so we are very excited to get back on the winning page. We are excited to push it to a new level and get back in the mix where we belong.”