Chelsea girls ready for jump to 7A following historic stretch

Published 5:13 pm Tuesday, November 1, 2022

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor 

CHELSEA – It will be a new era for the Chelsea girls basketball team when the Hornets hit the floor for the 2022-2023 basketball season, but the expectation remains the same.

Fresh off back-to-back Elite Eight appearances in Class 6A, Chelsea will now make the leap up to the highest classification in the state—a challenge that excites head coach Jason Harlow and his team.

“We’re excited for the opportunity to be at the highest level in high school athletics in this state,” Harlow said ahead of the season. “It’s a challenge, but it’s something we are looking forward to.”

That said, this year’s team doesn’t start there, it starts last year in the Elite Eight. In a tightly-contested game, the Hornets fell in a 53-52 overtime heartbreaker to Oxford to fall short of a second consecutive trip to the Final Four.

“We went 27-6 last year and lost in the regional final and lose three players who are now playing college basketball,” Harlow said. “We will lose 90 percent of last year’s scoring when we open, but we’ve faced that several times and have always had high character kids who have adjusted to new roles, and that won’t be any different this year. These kids have something they want to prove. Last year left a bitter taste in our mouth. We’ve heard continuously over and over again about what we’ve lost. We loved those kids and they did a tremendous amount, but we have a lot of talented players this year.”

That talent starts with two players looking to bounce back from knee injuries.

Sophia Brown injured her knee before the season last year and missed her entire junior season following a special sophomore campaign, while Lexi Redd tore her ACL late in the regional final last year against Oxford.

Brown will be back on the court for this season and is going to be a key contributor across the board, while Redd is hopeful and working hard to try and get back out there, but will accept her leadership role regardless.

“She wants to be back almost as bad as I want her back,” Harlow joked about Redd.

“I want to get back very badly,” she said. “I’m working hard and doing everything I can to get back. Right now, I see my role as a leader on the sideline, but I’m hopeful to get back.”

She said from the sideline, she can see a hungry and determined group ready to shock the 7A classification.

“Watching practice, I see a group of girls that want to win,” Redd said. “We have something to prove this year in 7A. We want to prove we can really be up there with the top dogs. We will have a successful season because we have the work ethic and determination to keep up.”

Brown reiterated the same message and added that her leadership role is one she is taking seriously.

“I’m ready to get back out there with my team,” she said. “Being a leader is one thing that has grown for me. We might struggle early, but as we keep playing and improving, we’ll do better. I need to help us reach that potential, but our team is hard working.”

Harlow said not only does Brown have the ability to still get to the rim and be a strong inside player—something she showed during the team’s Final Four run two years ago—but because of her injury, she has now improved her outside shooting as well.

Replacing seniors Sydney Schwallie, Mary Cartee and Ashley Washington will be no easy task, but Harlow said those two seniors in addition to several playmakers will make a difference.

“We have some with varsity experience coming back being asked to play roles they haven’t in the past, but they’re capable of doing so,” he said. “We may have some growing pains early in the year, but if we do things the right way, we can be a tough out at the end of the year.”

One aspect of the game Harlow said will remain key for the Hornets is on the defensive end of the floor.

He said the goal is for the team to start strong on that side because it will keep them in games as they work through offensive growth early. Then, when the offense starts clicking, the defense will also be at its best, creating a complete team.

“We have that conversation all the time,” Harlow said. “Even though we lost a large portion of scoring coming into the year, we keep telling the kids that we have to be a strong defensive team because that can help each other. We have to be good defensively to be successful. If we’re a good defensive team this year, we’ll be good overall.”

Some new faces to keep an eye on this year will be sophomore Sadie Schwallie, who will take over the point guard position from her sister, as well as senior Maddie Moore and 5-foot-10 Caroline Brown.

Heading into the season, the Hornets will face challenges, including an area that features Spain Park, Hewitt-Trussville and Oak Mountain, but it’s not something that intimidates them.

“We’re used to being the underdog,” Redd said. “We feel like that every season. People don’t understand how hard we work in practice. That will definitely translate on the court. People will see how hard we’re working.”

Chelsea’s season will begin on Thursday, Nov. 3 at Homewood.