Last season: 19-7 (lost to Scott County in semifinals of 42nd District Tournament)
Coach: Scotty Sutton (13th year)
1. Ellie Alford: 5-5 junior who averaged nine points and four rebounds last season. Said Sutton: “She’s an explosive athlete who can defend passing lanes, rebound and take the ball coast to coast if necessary. ... We love to run the break but there are times, I’ve tried to tell her, ‘You’re not being selfish if you get that long rebound and go coast to coast and beat teams down the floor.’ Last year at times that was our best offense.”
2. Hannah Brady: 5-4 point guard who has started three years and is Sayre’s lone senior. “A good passer who runs the system like clock work. Everything goes through her,” Sutton said. “There are times where I wanna say (to players not playing up to speed) ‘Go play point guard for two minutes and put yourself in her shoes.”
3. Sydney Strup: 5-9 junior who tore her ACL prior to last season. Sayre’s best defender as a freshman. “She will step back in and continue to help us with rebounding, maturity and be a defensive stopper.”
Others to watch: Dee Dee Wheeler, 5-6 sophomore who led the Spartans with 40 percent shooting from behind the arc last season. Isabele Pergande, 5-11 sophomore who “moves very well and will be a huge contributor this year;” Sutton said. Lainie Tew, 6-1 sophomore who spent most of last season backing up departed senior Gabby Bowie. She’s “come light years since her eighth-grade year.”
Games you gotta see: Sayre hosts Dayton as part of a boys-girls doubleheader on Jan. 8 for its homecoming contest. “It should be a great atmosphere,” Sutton said.
Fast facts: The Spartans are eyeing their third straight trip to the All “A” state tournament after never having made it before the 2013-14 season. Sutton said there’s nothing like making that trip and having fans and students line up to wish them well as they board the bus.
Said Alford: “(Coach) always says, ‘Don’t you wanna feel that way again, don’t you wanna go back there’ and we’re like ‘Let’s go, let’s get started.”
Goals: “Clearly, going to the All ‘A’ state tournament is our ultimate goal because we’re such a small school. When you’re in a district with Scott County, Henry Clay and Bryan Station, certainly that is one of our goals. The girls have been great. ... We talk all the time in this gym about the All ‘A’ state. This is a K-12 school and when we get down on the bus down at Limestone, there’s not a better feeling than all those people lining up.”
On recent All “A” success: “I went for years, when LCA was winning the real state tournament and three years in a row we lost to them by three points in the (11th Region All ‘A’) finals and I was beginning to wonder ‘Is it ever going to happen?’ We’re always realistic and we talk about a lot of times, we’re just going to go out here and play in front of just the parents. Let’s face it. When you go to the state (All ‘A’) tournament, you’re gonna have the school there, a lot of alumni and it’s great. It’s something we love to do. Sure we’d love to say ‘We’re going to the Sweet Sixteen’ and we want to do that and prepare for that, but that’s the number one thing on our list is to win the All ‘A’ State tournament.”
“I think it’s going to allow us to run our system. So many times over the last couple of years we had to deal with a junk defense (because of Gabby Bowie in the middle). ... Now they’re going to play more straight up and we can run more of our stuff.”
Ellie Alford: On her biggest strength ... “I would definitely say my speed. I’ve been told over the years that you can’t really teach speed and I’ve been blessed with speed so I use that as an advantage. It’s tricky being quick because you have to learn how to finish with all of that movement and I think I’ve started to.”
Hannah Brady: On playing point guard for Coach Sutton ... “Coach Sutton knows exactly what I have to go through (since he was a point guard). So if a team is applying a lot of pressure he understands instead of just screaming to do better he knows that pressure.”
On expectations ... “I definitely want to make a three-peat going to All ‘A’ State.”
On spreading things out on offense ... “Last year we had Gabby and she was huge for our team and allowed us to have more opportunities because of her height and and she was so good. This year, we’ve all stepped up and our guards are getting stronger and our post players are filling in their roles.”