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Vina girls bring back plenty of firepower

With the top three scorers—including All-State guard Abby Hester—back from last year’s 22-win team, expectations are as high as they’ve been in quite some time for Vina’s girls.

But head coach Richie Hester knows that those high expectations won’t mean much on Thursday afternoon, when the Lady Red Devils tip off the season with a game against Whitesburg Christian Academy in the Vina Holiday Tournament.

“We’re excited,” Hester said on Sunday. “But when you’re excited, you’ve still gotta prove yourselves, and that’s what we’re hoping to do. We’re hoping to prove ourselves.”

For the Lady Devils, proving themselves at least in part means avoiding the kind of second-half lull that took some of the shine off last year’s blistering 17-2 start. Vina stumbled out of the gate in January and went just 5-7 the rest of the way, ultimately falling all the way to the No. 4 seed in the Class 1A, Area 13 tournament and losing to host Phillips in the semifinals.

“We did have a great year last year,” Hester said, “but we were kind of upset with the way we came back from Christmas. After the Christmas break, it took us two or three weeks to start back playing good again. During that span, we had four or five area games, I think, and that really hurt us. We didn’t play good in those games that were key to the season.

“At the end of the season, we were back playing like we were at the beginning of the year, but we got a bad draw in the tournament. This year, we’re hoping to maybe maintain consistency throughout the season. Our expectations are higher.”

Those expectations largely center around the high-scoring trio of Hester (a senior point guard), sophomore guard Kaitlyn King and junior forward Emma Humphres, who among them accounted for 197 of Vina’s school-record 215 three-pointers made last season.

“Those are three prolific shooters, for sure,” Richie Hester said.

The 5’2 Hester came up big in virtually every way, leading the Lady Red Devils in scoring (18.0 points per game), assists (8.3 per game), steals (5.7 per game), threes made (75) and free throw shooting (185-for-247, a rate of 75 percent) on her way to earning second-team All-State honors from the ASWA. She topped the 20-point mark 14 times, including a career-high 43-point barrage in an overtime loss to Tharptown on January 13.

Hester has already scored 1,067 career points at the varsity level, and she has plenty of help, too. King knocked down 68 threes last season and shot a solid 49% from inside the arc, averaging 10.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. Humphres hit 54 threes last year and averaged 9.9 points while also pulling down a team-high 9.0 rebounds per game.

All told, Hester, King and Humphres combined to score 1,175 points last season, an average of 37.9 points per game.

Lefty guard Rayleigh Guin and post player Sarah Scott, both eighth-graders, filled the other two starting spots for Vina during a strong summer, and senior guard Kaleigh Vandiver (a Belgreen transfer) and sophomore forward Sarah Johnson will also see major minutes.

“I think we’re a little deeper than we were last year,” Hester said. “Sarah Johnson has a lot of athletic ability. She brings a lot to the table. She was our best defensive player last year. When we had to stop somebody on the other team, she was the one we called on. She’s very important to our team.

“Kaleigh gives us more depth and another guard who can shoot it. Rayleigh Guin has a lot of athletic ability, and she can shoot and run the floor and do whatever we need her to do. Sarah Scott gives us a threat under the goal that we didn’t have much last year. She’s a good rebounder and can shoot under the goal. All of those things add to what we didn’t have last year.”

As seventh-graders last season, Guin and Scott helped lead Vina’s junior girls to a runner-up finish in the county tournament.

“They were both a major part of that,” Hester said. “They’re young, but they’re gonna be thrown into key positions for us and see a lot of time. They’ll have to mature quickly.”

Sophomore Hannah Johnson and freshman Amy Colvin will play reserve roles, and Hester expects eighth-graders Hailey Cantrell and Abbie Petree to move up from the junior high level and make an impact later in the season.

By that time, Hester hopes the Lady Red Devils will be well on their way to battling the likes of Phillips and county rival Belgreen for an Area 13 championship—and more.

“We’ve played at Wallace before,” he said. “We went to Hanceville the summer before last, and we want to go to Wallace [for the regional tournament]. We may have three of the top teams in 1A in the state of Alabama in our area, with us, Phillips and Belgreen, and you can’t count out Tharptown. They have a lot of young players, and I know they didn’t have a great season last year, but they’ll be a lot better this year.

“Our expectation is to be in Birmingham this season.”

Below is the schedule for this week's Vina Holiday Tournament:

Thursday, November 16

2:00 - Vina vs. Whitesburg Christian (Varsity Girls)

3:30 - Winston County vs. Sheffield (VG)

5:00 - Whitesburg Christian vs. Addison (VG)

6:15 - Vina vs. Winston County (Varsity Boys)

7:30 - Vina vs. Addison (VG)

Friday, November 17

3:15 - Vina vs. Sheffield (VG)

4:30 - Waterloo vs. Winston County (VG)

5:45 - Waterloo vs. Winston County (VB)

7:00 - Sheffield vs. Waterloo (VG)

8:15 - Vina vs. Winston County (VG)

Saturday, November 18

9:30 - Vina vs. Fayette County (VG)

10:45 - Addison vs. Winston County (VG)

12:00 - Vina vs. Paint Rock (VG)

1:15 - Fayette County vs. Winston County (VG)

2:30 - Paint Rock vs. Waterloo (VG)

3:45 - Vina vs. Paint Rock (VB)

5:00 - Vina vs. Waterloo (VG)

6:15 - Paint Rock vs. Waterloo (VB)

 

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