By Lee Davis
Almost everyone was expecting the Mountain Brook girls’ basketball team to be strong in 2013-14.
Maybe they just didn’t realize how strong.
The Lady Spartans were a serious force in 2012-13, going all the way to the Class 6A Northeast Regional finals before losing. With stars Collier Ogilvie and Mary Katherine Pinson returning for their senior seasons, Mountain Brook had high hopes for the following winter.
So far, things have worked out pretty well. The Lady Spartans entered the week with a 15-3 record and had earned most of their victories by comfortable margins. The losses had come at the hands of elite powers from the northern part of Alabama, including Sparkman and, most recently, Bob Jones, but Mountain Brook coach Mark Cornelius thinks his team can crack the proverbial glass ceiling and make a run to the Final Four.
“The problems we have are fixable,” Cornelius said. “Against Bob Jones, we shot only eight percent from the three-point line, had 18 turnovers but still only trailed by two with 30 seconds to go. If we play the full four quarters and avoid turnovers, we can get to that next level.”
The Lady Spartans have been bolstered by the play of sophomore forwards Sara Carr and Nicole Strahl and junior guard Neely Francis.
“We have maybe the best team chemistry that we’ve had here,” Cornelius said. “Collier and Mary Katherine have embraced the younger girls, and they have embraced our seniors. We may have a more resilient team because nobody thinks they have to do it alone. They have a genuine trust in each other and believe that we are going in the right direction.”
One result is a balanced scoring attack.
“We’ve had five different girls be the leading scorer in games so far this year,” Cornelius pointed out.
Another unconventional statistic that Cornelius likes is the fact that nine Lady Spartans have taken charging fouls in 2013-14.
“We’re showing a lot of aggressiveness both on offense and defense,” the coach said.
One big plus for Mountain Brook is the return of Ogilvie–a four-time All Over the Mountain selection–to her earlier form after injury-plagued sophomore and junior seasons.
“They used to call Collier ‘The Train’ because of her aggressive play and the way she would go to the basket,” Cornelius said. “She’s starting to get that back now, really going full-throttle again.”
A good example of Ogilvie’s resurgence came in the Lady Spartans’ 52-39 rout of defending Class 6A champion Hoover on Dec. 13, as she scored 18 points and bagged nine rebounds. Pinson followed with 17 points and five steals.
“Mary Katherine has really been solid on the perimeter for us, and that helps open up our inside game,” Cornelius said.
The coach said he also likes the toughness of junior forward Abby Garrett.
As promising as the start has been, Mountain Brook has plenty of regular season challenges ahead. The Lady Spartans compete in Class 6A’s Area 11, which includes powerful Shades Valley and always dangerous Woodlawn and Vestavia Hills. They also face Wenonah in a non-area matchup at Birmingham-Southern College on Jan. 27.
Whether Mountain Brook will be playing at the BJCC in late February and early March is still an open question. But one thing is certain: The Lady Spartans believe they can get there.
Stars from Outside….
Contrary to what some people in our state believe, there is college football outside the confines of the Southeastern Conference. And there are at least two local alumni who excelled at other levels.
Former Vestavia Rebel quarterback Ryan Howard earned National Offensive Player of the Week honors as he led Central Arkansas to a 49-31 win over Sam Houston State in November. Howard tossed four touchdown passes in the first half as UCA rolled to a 42-10 halftime advantage. He completed 24 of 36 passes for 349 yards and no interceptions.
Howard took over as quarterback after regular starter Wynrick Smothers was injured in the seventh game of the season. For the year, Howard completed 144 of 234 passes for 1,848 yards. He threw 18 touchdowns with just four interceptions. His completion percentage was an impressive 61.5 percent.
Former Spain Park star Zac Olinger had a standout season at the Ivy League’s Columbia University in New York City. Olinger was the leading tackler in the conference and earned a spot on the All-Ivy League team.