By WILL HIGHTOWER
On paper, the Lady Spartans are young. Kaki Simpson is the only senior, and sophomores form the majority. But many of the sophomores have played on the varsity team for two to three years, so really the team has just as much experience as anyone else, even if they are younger according to the calendar. The team’s record is 18-6.
Sophomores Mary Katherine Pinson and Collier Ogilvie and junior Ellie Mouyal usually trade places as leading scorers, with at least one hitting 15 or 20 points every game. Mary Katherine scored 39 points against Vestavia in January to break the record for the most points scored in a game.
Head coach Mark Cornelius also said that Simpson, who was named the captain of the team, is a leader: “Kaki does a great job of keeping our team a group and is someone that the team can rally around. She understands her role and gets out there and plays hard. She has a good time but she doesn’t lose the focus of what we’re trying to do.”
When asked about being the only senior on the team, Kaki said, “It’s basically been the same people on the team for the past three years so age does not create a barrier. I am very comfortable with everyone and we have all grown to be extremely close.”
Cornelius is a familiar face to Mountain Brook basketball fans. Cornelius’ ten years as the boys coach were some of Mountain Brook’s most successful, even including a run to the Final Four in 2001. After leaving in 2008 to coach at Hoover, Cornelius is back as the girls coach.
“I don’t think I would change anything,” he said. “I wouldn’t go back to coaching boys. It’s been a really big blessing for me to be back here, and I’ve enjoyed this year as much as any year I’ve coached.”
His coaching is paying dividends, as the girls finished December at 14-5 and are currently playing tough area teams like Vestavia, Homewood and Spain Park. The schedule was intentionally made tougher early on to help the Spartans prepare for these teams.
“We’ve been in some close games, been behind, and had to figure out a way to get ahead,” Cornelius said. “Because of that I think we’re improving a lot as a team. Hopefully we’ll understand how to handle close games now. These teams in our area have the best coaches we will face, so they will be prepared for us.”
As the playoffs roll around, the girls and the coaches are confident.
“We should win our area,” Cornelius said. “And I would be disappointed if we didn’t make it to Jacksonville this year. We should be there.”
“We are definitely keeping our eyes set on Jacksonville, but we have to get past the area tournament first,” Simpson said.
Keep up with the team as they head toward the playoffs and prove that age is just a number.