Briarwood girls ready to build off last year’s historic season

Published 4:03 pm Tuesday, October 24, 2023

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By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

NORTH SHELBY – Entering the 2023-2024 basketball season, the Briarwood girls basketball team is as energized as ever after historic season saw the Lions punch a ticket to the Sweet 16 for the first time in the 6A classification.

With several key players returning this, including three who have started for at least two years, the Lions are determined to build off of last year’s exciting finish.

“The goals we have for ourselves, we want to win area tournament and make it back to the Sweet 16,” Briarwood head coach Lorie Kerley said ahead of the season. “Once you have the experience of making the Sweet 16, you want to get back. You have that taste and want it again. That bar is set for us already. We’ve been putting in work since our season ended last year, in the weight room every day getting bigger, faster and stronger. I’m really excited about this season.”

A reason for her excitement is the return of senior and four-year starter Mary Beth Dicen.

The speedy guard made the All-County Third Team during her junior season after totaling 7.6 points, 3.5 assists and 1.1 rebounds per game. Her 3.5 assists per game led the county by a wide margin, which comes in handy this season with several playmakers around her.

“I’ve seen Mary Beth really working hard on her shot and around the rim to improve,” Kerley said. “I’m really pleased with her work. She’s been working to get to the basket and finish over bigger players, she’s super quick and loves tempo.”

Dicen, who knows the system and tempo of this team well, thinks this year’s group could be extremely good building off of last year’s success, but she knows, as the only senior, she will have to be a leader in helping them accomplish similar goals this year.

“Being the only senior, I am very excited to lead my team alongside the other two captains, Emma (Kerley) and AT (Ann Tatum Baker),” Dicen said. “I am so thankful for this great group of girls and the friendships we have created. This year, we have the opportunity to show that even though we’re small, we’re mighty.”

The Lions will lose double-double machine Taylor Smith last year, who made the All-County First Team for her efforts in leading the team to the Sweet 16 after averaging 10.8 points per game and 6.1 rebounds per game as well as a county-high 64 blocks, but the return of sophomores Emma Kerley and Baker will help soften the blow.

The two young players already have starting experience under their belts and will take on key roles this season.

Lorie said that Emma has really worked hard in the offseason to improve in the post with that being a bigger emphasis this season in addition to their up-temp offensive approach.

“We had an intense preseason, a lot of practicing,” Emma said. “We have a new strength and conditioning coach and she does a great job of pushing us to work as hard as we can. As a team, we’ve grown a stronger bond. I played AAU this summer too, so keeping up with the pace and staying in shape was a big help.”

Last year, she averaged 7.9 points and 4.4 rebounds per game and has worked on setting her feet quicker and fighting through contact with quick shots in the post.

Tatum, like Dicen, is a player who flies up and down the floor and loves to use her speed in the up-tempo approach for the team.

“The first time I saw Tatum, she was in the fourth grade, playing soccer,” Lorie said. “I remember she had a ribbon in her hair, and I just remember seeing the ribbon in her hair flying down the field. She is so fast.”

Tatum said this year’s group is really close and they are ready to put together another historic run.

“We had a taste of what it feels like, how fun it was to be in the sweet 16, how fun it was to be there so we are working to get back,” she said. “We’ve all been playing together for a really long time, and I feel like we are able to knit well together. We feel each other and know how each other plays.”

Beyond those three key players, the Lions will have confidence in several other players, including two more sophomores in Sarah Travis and Sasha Munikar, who add to a stacked sophomore class.

Both of those players have worked hard in the offseason to improve their shooting and ball handling to take on bigger roles offensively for this year’s team.

A smaller team, Briarwood will focus on pushing the ball offensively at the right time, while the defense will continue to be scrappy with a goal of forcing turnovers and fast break opportunities.

Briarwood will open the season on Friday, Nov. 9 with a home game against Hartselle.