Lady Rebels’ remarkable turnaround comes to an end in Montgomery

Published 3:44 pm Wednesday, February 7, 2024

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Chambers Academy struggled to find a flow down the stretch as the Lady Rebels fell to Sparta 49-34 in the AISA 2A semifinals. 

Basketball is a game of adjustments, and the Lady Warriors were the team that made the timely adjustments on Wednesday. Early in the game, Sparta came out in press defense, but the Rebels were consistently able to find holes in the press. 

In the second half, the Lady Warriors switched to more of a half-court defense. This adjustment stifled Chambers Academy and led to Sparta outscoring the Rebels 13-4 in the fourth period. 

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“They got out of the press, and I think that hurt us,” Chambers Academy coach Jeff Hines said.

“That’s something I’ve had nightmares about — could we effectively beat the press? Our girls executed well and got them out of the press. They just got back in the halfcourt, and we’re kind of offense-deficient. We have good games and bad games, but in the second half we may have [only] knocked down a couple of shots.” 

The loss on Wednesday will be a tough pill to swallow for the Lady Rebels and all involved, but it should not take away from the remarkable turnaround that got Chambers Academy to Montgomery. 

At one point this season, the Rebels looked to be completely dead in the water. Chambers Academy started the season 3-13 before rattling off six straight wins and advancing to the semifinals. 

“One game is not going to define them,” Hines said. “This team could have really mailed it in a long time ago. I don’t know what the final was, but it was a lot closer than the score indicated today.” 

Chambers Academy found leadership through the tough parts of the season from players like Lizzie McManus and MaKenzie Gilliland. Gilliland was stellar in the matchup against Sparta, totaling 17 points, four rebounds and two steals. McManus did not score in the game, but she finished with five rebounds and two blocks. 

“They wouldn’t allow it,” Hines said. “They wouldn’t allow the team to fold.” 

The season was tumultuous at times for Chambers Academy, with several players being out with illnesses, player suspensions and coach illnesses causing struggles for the Rebels. After the Rebels got past those blockades, they found a rhythm and even had chances to take over the game against Sparta early on. 

Kaitlyn Johnson sparked the Lady Warriors’ offense in the first half as she connected on four shots from behind the arc. Johnson finished with 16 points in the game. Sparta’s offense slowed down from behind the arc, but their defense picked up the slack as the Warriors outscored Chambers Academy 25-14 in the final two periods. 

The loss in Montgomery will serve as a bittersweet end to the career of several seniors, but the season is going to be a learning experience for a young core that the Lady Rebels are bringing back next season. 

Madison Stanford scored nine points against Sparta, and the sophomore will be a major part of Chambers Academy’s future on the hardwood. Players like Olivia Daughtrey, Maleah Tigner and Tyane Anthony have played pivotal roles this season, and they will be the building blocks moving forward. 

“We’re going to build around those girls that are coming back, and then we’ve got some good freshmen that will be coming up next year as sophomores that played on the JV team,” Hines said. “We’ve got a chance to put it together. I told them, ‘This is what it tastes like for you underclassmen to get to Mongomery. That taste needs to be in your mind. It needs to be a bad taste, meaning you need to work to get back.”’