Etowah girls play No. 2 Center Point


Etowah’s Neah Meeks and the Blue Devils play No. 2 Center Point today in the Class 5A Northeast Regional basketball tournament. (Photo by Sarah Dudik | Gadsden Times | File)


The Etowah girls basketball program, overall, hasn’t experienced much success.

The Blue Devils had never won an area tournament. They’ve reached the sub-regional playoffs four times in school history, but never have qualified for the Northeast Regional tournament.

Until now.

“It’s unbelievable,” said first-year coach Ryan Fore, whose Blue Devils face second-ranked Center Point at noon today in the semifinals of the Class 5A Northeast Regional tournament. “We came in Saturday morning to try to get a practice in and work on Center Point, and all the girls were kind of dead from having such a tough game earlier in the week in the sub-regionals. They were talking about how they were up so late talking with their parents and their families, saying they didn’t get in bed until 1 or 2 in the morning because everybody was up late ... It had never happened before.”

Etowah (19-11), which has won seven of eight and is coming off a 57-54 overtime win over Fort Payne in the sub-regional round, should get a wake-up call against Center Point (23-8). The Eagles are the defending state champion and likely are the favorites to take home the Northeast Regional title.

“We are going to have our hands full,” Fore said. “While we’d rather not play them in the first game, we know that to be able to get on further, we’re going to have to beat them anyway.”

At the beginning of the season, not many were expecting this type of run out of the Blue Devils. After losing two seniors from the 2010-11 season, Etowah set modest goals for 2011-12, like being No. 2 in the area and just reaching the sub-regional round.

“To win the area championship and to win the sub-regional and get to Jacksonville State, we are exceeding expectations a little bit,” Fore said. “Now we’re talking about, ‘Hey, let’s not stop the run here, let’s see how far we can ride this thing.’”

How far Etowah can go may hinge on the play of Bri Aaron. The senior guard has been solid this season, averaging 18.3 points per game. Her assists are up and turnovers are down from a season ago. She has taken on a leadership role for the Blue Devils.

“She doesn’t say much on the floor,” Fore said. “She’s one of those silent leaders. She leads by example.”

Starting shooting guard Mary Cate Hereford is the fastest player on the team and is a good defender. Inside, freshman Brooke Perry is healthy after missing the second half of last season with an injury.

“She’s stepped in for us and has been a big-time surprise,” Fore said. “She played really well in the area tournament, and we’re hoping she’ll continue to play well and stay hot and carry us through a little bit.”

Another post player, Neah Meeks, also has been playing well as of late, scoring 14 points in the sub-regional against Fort Payne.

“Our two bigs are the reason we’ve had the success we’ve had,” Fore said. “They’ve got their legs under them and got into a rhythm of things.”

Shuntara Howard is a slasher for the team and is averaging about nine points per contest.

Defense will be key today against Center Point. The Eagles boast four players taller than 5-foot-11 and they like to run the floor.

Keonna Farmer, a 6-foot-1 guard, scored 27 points to go along with 11 rebounds in Thursday’s sub-regional win over Wenonah. Dominique Patrick and Gabrielle Holston also are threats.

The Eagles do have a tendency to turn the ball over, committing 28 against Wenonah.