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Hartselle Enquirer

The Future is bright for Hartselle Hoops

Caleb Suggs

Hartselle Enquirer

Tuesday night saw the end of what has been a surprising turnaround season for the Hartselle Tigers basketball program. Hartselle achieved so many “first time since” moments this year, including getting their first winning season and their first county championship since 2008. Being a Hartselle graduate of 2014, I was around for the period of time when basketball didn’t bring much excitement and served mostly as filler between football/volleyball and baseball/softball season. Being able to work at the Enquirer for the past two years, with the knowledge of what the program used to be like, and being able to see the transformation of the program has been nothing short of amazing.

It started last year. The Hartselle Lady Tigers surprise run to the state tournament was one of the feel good sports stories in North Alabama, but for me the support of the town was what was shocking. Having played at Hartselle I was familiar with the support that Hartselle puts into its sports, but I was still amazed at the turnouts during the regional tournament at Wallace State and the state tournament in Birmingham. Just the student section turnout was so large that members of other school systems were taking to social media to encourage their own to do the same. Just this past week, almost a year since those tournaments, people at a Priceville and Danville basketball game were still talking about it.

The boy’s success this year is what really kicked everything into high gear. Coming in, most expected the Tigers to show improvement, after ending last year on a positive note and returning all their starters, but not many expected the turnaround the Tigers made. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows to start the season. A three point loss at Columbia, a two point loss at Florence and a three point loss in overtime to defending state champs Homewood combined with tough losses to Austin and one to Decatur left the Tigers with a 7-8 record just 10 days into the new year. However, it was then that the Tigers really hit their stride. Hartselle won 11 games in a row, which included completely dominating the county tournament, and avenged several of those losses. Much of that was due to the senior Tigers Isaac Taylor, Eric Stephenson, Kyle Eddy and Seth Garner. These guys weren’t superstar high school athletes who you will see making huge headlines at the next level, but they were exactly what Hartselle needed. Unfortunately for the Tigers, their season ended with two losses, one to Austin in the area championship and the other a 51-50 loss to defending state runners up Muscle Shoals, but nevertheless the roots have been planted.

Hartselle will graduate four of their top six players, but don’t expect them to take a big step back, or even at all. Hartselle head coach’s Faron Key and Gary Orr have worked to build the program from the bottom up and their work will be on display next year. The Tigers had one of the top JV teams in the area this year and those guys will be the ones counted on next year. A couple of them (Gunnar Wiggins and Drew Nix) were already moved up before the end of the season, and the others, guys like Braxton Miller, Will Stephenson and Hilton Anderson, will have their chance next year. The girl’s team, who suffered a disappointing season after the final four finish, will be no different. The Lady Tigers will return nine of their 13 players on the roster at the end of the year including their top two stars Moriah Taylor and Anna Mathis. In addition, young stars such as Allie Mayfield and Madison Lawler, who were thrust into starting roles early in the year, will show the effects of their growth next year. Hartselle also has future stars in the making. The Tigers’ junior high teams all acquired good records and the Tigers have been working on the younger talent too thanks to basketball camps hosted by the high school and run by the high school coaches and players.

Hartselle is a school with a rich sports tradition. The Tigers have had recent success in the major sports of football, volleyball, baseball and softball as well as other sports like track, golf, tennis, bowling and cross-country. A top basketball program would be the icing on the cake for a school known for winning championships.

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