By Blake Ells
Last season, Spain Park won its first girls basketball state championship in program history. That has firmly planted a target on the Jaguars this season.
“Everyone wants to beat us, and we are going to get everyone’s best when they play us,” said junior Sarah Ashlee Barker. “We can’t go into games overconfident because we are reigning state champs. I think I’ve done a pretty good job in making sure that everyone has the correct mindset on getting what we need to get done this year.”
Barker wasn’t on just last year’s championship team, she played for the state runners-up her freshman season. That experience is one that may be even more valuable in helping to remind her of the goal.
“We know what it takes to win a state championship, but we’ve also felt how it feels to lose,” Barker said. “I keep telling my teammates, ‘We lost in the state championship game when we were freshmen, and we don’t want to have that feeling again.’ Repeating those words and reminding everyone that you don’t just get handed something makes your team think that every game is one step at a time.”
The Jaguars lost just six games this season, two of them to crosstown rival Hoover. Should the two teams meet again, it would be in the shadow of the state championship game that the Jaguars lost two seasons ago. Three girls remain from that team: Barker, a junior, and seniors Ahrielle Parks and Bailey Bowers.
Barker and Bowers have played basketball together since they were children.
“We’ve been best friends since we were little kids,” Barker said. “To be able to finish it out for her senior year would be amazing. I’d love to win it for her senior year. When we lost two years ago, we were both determined to get back.
“She and I are very similar in our approach to games. We always have the right mindset with each other; we know when we have to get going and step up for our team. We have chemistry because we’ve been best friends since we were little,” Barker continued. “Winning a state championship with her was an amazing experience as best friends and teammates.”
That relationship has helped make Barker’s role as a leader easier for everyone.
“They really don’t treat me like a junior,” she said. “They treat me like I’m just playing basketball and leading the team like I should be. The three of us lead the team differently. We have different roles in leading, but we all do it together.”
The Jaguars were set to play Hewitt-Trussville on Tuesday in the regional final at Wallace State Community College in Hanceville. It was to be the fifth time that the two teams have met this season. The contest occurred after this issue of Over the Mountain Journal went to press.
Regardless of outcome, Barker, Bowers and Parks have created a new girls basketball culture at Spain Park. They will leave behind, at minimum, the first state championship in school history, and possibly more.
“I think we’ve shown people that you can play basketball the right way,” Barker said. “A year before I was coming up as a freshman, we didn’t even make it out of area. We had everyone coming back when I came up as a freshman. And no one expected us to make it to the state championship that year. But when you get a group of girls together that all have the same goal and are all best friends and don’t fight with each other, you’re going to have success. I hope that I can set as example for not only being a great player, but also a great teammate.”