By Blake Ells
Senior Kate Amberson, juniors Anne Vandevelde and Ellie Dayhuff and sophomore Celie Field didn’t join the Mountain Brook girls basketball team until Nov. 1, just one week before the Spartans’ first game against Homewood.
The four helped lead the Spartans’ volleyball team to the AHSAA 7A state semifinals, losing in three sets to eventual champion McGill-Toolen (16-25, 18-25, 14-25).
That’s a third of the Spartans roster, and it put the team at a bit of disadvantage out of the gate. Still, the girls reached the Thanksgiving break with just one loss, 55-58 at Shades Valley on Nov. 10, and with a tournament championship in their own Spartan Turkey Jam the week of Thanksgiving. Their path to that trophy included victories over Gardendale, Shades Valley and Central-Tuscaloosa.
“They haven’t been with us since June,” coach John London said. “That’s the last time that we had them with us as a team. Even though what we do isn’t complicated, there’s still a thought process that takes place and they have to have some time to figure out where they need to be. But we’re patient with them. They just have to be patient with themselves.”
The Spartans have had new leaders every night they’ve been on the floor this season, but their leading scorers through their first seven games were seniors Whitton Bumgarner and Emily Henderson. Bumgarner’s season high was 19 points against Gardendale, while Henderson’s season high of 24 points came in the loss at Shades Valley.
They’ll work to improve on their 19-9 finish from a year ago, a season that ended with a first-round loss in the area tournament. It was London’s first year at the helm.
“The goal is to win the area and get to the regional,” London said. “We’re used to going to the regional tournamen, and we haven’t been in a couple of years.”
Region play against Spain Park, Hewitt-Trussville and Vestavia Hills won’t begin until Jan. 8, when the Spartans will travel to meet the Jaguars. That leaves plenty of time to gel with the girls who joined the team in November and plenty of time to tune-up for one of the state’s most difficult regions.
They’ll face difficult local competition in Ramsay and St. Pius X of Atlanta; they’ll accompany the boys team to the Classic of the Palms tournament in West Palm Beach, Florida, one of the nation’s premier high school basketball tournaments; and they’ll compete in the Spain Park Holiday Tournament, offering the Spartans a possible preview of that area competition.
“We’ve got to do a better job of taking care of the basketball,” London said of what his team will focus on over those coming weeks. “We’re making way too many turnovers right now. And we just need to play within ourselves. We can defend a little bit better than we’ve been defending. We’ve shown that we can. We just have to build on that and keep moving forward.”
London believes that when Amberson, Vandevelde, Dayhuff and Field are allowed more time, his team will continue gaining momentum.
“They just need to get their basketball legs under them,” he said. “As soon as they figure out what’s going on with us – offensively and the scheme of things – they’re going to make our team even better. We just need to get those girls up to par.”
Mountain Brook will host McAdory on Dec. 3 and travel to West Lincoln, Mississippi, on Dec. 8. They’ll return to the Spartan Arena for home games against Ramsay on Dec. 11 and Parker on Dec. 14 before they hit the holiday stretch.