Daily photo by John Godbey|
Hartselle’s Jessica Andrews hurries down the court against Pleasant Grove in the Northwest Regionals in Hanceville last week.
Hartselle players carry Lady Tigers to first Final Four since 1988
By Mark Edwards
HARTSELLE — The question brought a laugh from this foursome of Hartselle girls basketball players.
When did you four begin playing basketball together?
Seniors Jessica Andrews, Lauren Drake and Mary Virginia Reeves and junior Anna Reeves smiled and searched for an answer before Andrews blurted out, “Since we were babies.”
You see, these four barely can remember a time when they weren’t on the court together. For the past three years, all four have started for Hartselle, and they developed a bond that goes back much further than that.
Their bond has helped push the Hartselle girls squad to its first Class 5A Final Four since 1988 — just a little before they were born.
“We don’t play with a lot of emotion and don’t get real excited before games, and some of our coaches have gotten on to us about that, but we’ve played together for so long and know each other so well,” Drake said.
“We know what to expect from each other.”
After a recent practice for a Friday state semifinal game when Hartselle (28-6) faces three-time defending state champion Ramsay (31-2), the four sat down to discuss their friendship, their longtime relationship on the basketball court and their excitement about their team making the Final Four.
Like friends who know each other well, they finish each other sentences and laugh at inside jokes that don’t have to be repeated. Even though they acknowledge that they’re different as individuals and basketball players, if you ask which one said a particular thought, they’re likely to answer, “Any of us could’ve said that.”
The morning after winning regionals, they thought of each other and their teammates. When Andrews woke up, she grabbed her cell phone and quickly typed out a message for all the other team members: “Good morning, regional champions.”
More text messages followed — probably enough to make the cell phone providers happy.
In fact, these four have grown so accustomed to playing on the same team, there’s a small drawback for them this week — when the Final Four ends, so does their time as teammates.
Winning regionals meant not only a championship but more time together on the same team.
“We get to keep sharing this with each other,” Drake said.
Andrews added, “It’s nice to share this with each other.”
The four were born and raised as Hartselle girls and began playing in the city recreational leagues as soon as they were old enough. They didn’t start off as friends.
Anna Reeves and Jessica Andrews say that they didn’t get along at first.
“We were rivals,” said Anna Reeves, who’s no relation to Mary Virginia Reeves.
Andrews added, “It’s because Anna and I were always on different teams.”
Reeves then added, “But we’re good friends now.”
The foursome’s ability to succeed together became apparent when they played for the same 9- and 10-year-old Hartselle all-star basketball team. They won a state championship in their division.
They also played on the same Amateur Athletic Union teams, more city league squads and junior high programs.
By the time they reached high school varsity, they had few secrets — and a unique relationship their coach, Greg Adams, who already knew them well.
His daughter, Olivia Adams, played basketball with these four when they were children. Olivia has moved into cheerleading at Hartselle High, which allows her to keep a strong connection to her father’s team.
“He loves us like we’re his own kids,” Anna Reeves said.
Adams said, “I’m probably a little closer to these girls because I’ve known them for so long through my daughter.”
So what are Drake, Andrews, Reeves and Reeves like? When asked, they’re willing to give a small bit of insight into their personalities.
The other three describe Mary Virginia Reeves as the jokester. She plays one of the two post positions along with Drake, and Drake said that no matter how serious the situation, Reeves can find time for a joke.
Reeves said that during a tense regional semifinal win over Pleasant Grove, she asked Drake, who was ill and didn’t look in the best of health, “Did your spleen explode?”
Anna Reeves, a guard, has made her basketball reputation as a 3-point shooting ace, but the others describe her as the “girly-girl” of the four of them.
When asked if that was correct, Reeves paused before finally saying, “Yes.”
“She’s a cheerleader (during football season), and she’s definitely a girly girl,” Mary Virginia Reeves said.
The others said that when they were younger, Anna Reeves wore her hair with bangs and always carried a comb to make sure they looked their best.
With Anna laughing along, Mary Virginia imitated her combing out her bangs.
As for Andrews, the others describe her as the most talkative and outgoing one of the group.
“She’s not shy at all,” Mary Virginia Reeves said.
“She talks all the time,” Anna Reeves said.
“She makes friends with more referees than anybody,” Drake said.
They added that they admire her willingness to play against much larger opponents. The point guard, Andrews says she’s 5-foot-7 but probably is closer to 5-3.
“I’ll get in there against the big girls,” Andrews said. “I’m not scared.”
How do they describe Drake?
“She’s the momma,” all three said in unison.
Andrews said, “She’s the one who gets everybody calm. She’s the one who’s responsible.”
Andrews recalled a recent basketball trip that involved an overnight stay in a hotel. Andrews, Drake and teammate Hilary Dukes stayed in the same room.
“Lauren was the one who made sure we had our room keys and that we were in bed when we were supposed to be,” Andrews said. “That’s just how Lauren is.”
As conversation about Drake wound down, Andrews, Reeves and Reeves mentioned one more quality of their 5-foot-10, blond-haired teammate, again saying in unison: “She’s pretty.”
If Hartselle beats Ramsay, the Lady Tigers will play again Saturday at 5 p.m. against either St. Paul’s or Arab. After that, the Hartselle will begin looking toward next season when its lineup will look decidedly different.
Andrews, Drake and Mary Virginia Reeves have played significantly for four years. They went 17-11 as freshmen. Then when Anna Reeves joined those three in the starting lineup, they went 21-9 as sophomores, 26-6 as juniors and 28-6 this year as seniors.
Next year, there’s only one holdover from this foursome.
“I’ll be by myself,” Anna Reeves said.
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