Kerley, Morrison share 2023 Coach of the Year honor

Published 7:28 am Thursday, March 30, 2023

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By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

Fighting in the same area this season, the Briarwood Lions and Pelham Panthers both walked away from the 2022-2023 girls basketball season with a sense of pride.

Neither walked away with a state championship and they both finished shy of the Final Four, but the accomplishments from both were special for the continued growth of both programs.

That was no more evident than when the head coaches of each team walked off the floor with their squads for the final time this season, emotion clearly weighing them down, but also, words of accomplishment and excitement for what their teams had done.

For Pelham and head coach Crosby Morrison, it was a second consecutive trip to the Elite Eight and a third season in a row to make it to at least the Sweet 16.

As for Briarwood and head coach Lorie Kerley, it was the team’s first-ever playoff appearance at the 6A level, while the Lions ultimately made it all the way to the Sweet 16 and put together a 20-plus win season for the first time in years.

Those milestones were more than enough for the two to be named the 2023 Shelby County Coaches of the Year.

Sure, one could have received the honor over the other, but there was no big factor that created separation of each to minimize the accomplishments both had this season in leading their squad.

Morrison has taken Pelham’s girls basketball team and turned it into one of the state’s best in her tenure with the Panthers.

Her teams have become the most consistent the last several years, and this year was no different.

The expectation has become for Pelham to at least make the Sweet 16 each year, and there aren’t many schools who can consistently do that year in and year out with the talent that departs.

This year, not only did it happen by getting through the Sweet 16 and back to the Elite Eight, but the Panthers played one of the state’s most challenging schedules for a 6A girls team.

Pelham took on several playoff teams, several Sweet 16 teams and the 7A State Champion this season, in addition to others. It all helped prepare the Panthers to bring home the area championship before going on a run to the Elite Eight where they ultimately fell to Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa by 12 points.

Morrison has been named the Coach of the Year for the second year in a row after winning the award outright a season ago.

As for Kerley, there is no way around what she was able to do in leading this year’s team.

Her leadership was evident from the start of the season, beaming with excitement because of a team that had bought into the idea of working to be the best they could be.

The Lions didn’t accept what had been done in previous years, they wanted to be the group that created history, and that’s exactly what they did by making it to the Sweet 16 for the first time ever at the 6A level.

Not only did Briarwood do that this season, but the Lions won 22 games, which was also the most at the 6A level and the most in several years.

The most impressive part was the improvement of the players, which falls on both the coach and the players themselves. Kerley helped lay the foundation for what was possible, but the players bought in and believed.

In past years, Briarwood may have cracked under the pressure in some of the bigger games, but this season, the Lions found ways to win tight games, including a 47-46 win over Helena in the area tournament just to get into the playoffs and then a 56-44 win in sub-regionals to advance to the Sweet 16.

The Lions also split the regular-season area series with Pelham, ultimately losing to the Panthers a second time in the area championship, while they went 2-1 against Helena and also beat teams like Spain Park and Homewood.

The only other coach to push those two coaches hard for the award this season was Chelsea head coach Jason Harlow, who also deserves praise.

In their first year in Class 7A, the Hornets won more than 20 games and made the Sweet 16 to set the tone for the team at the highest level of competition moving forward.

But for Morrison, it was the second straight Elite Eight, and for Kerley, it was the turnaround from previous years to school history that was key.