Spain Park girls ready for renewed success under Hadder’s leadership

Published 4:09 pm Tuesday, October 24, 2023

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

Following 14 years and two state championships, a new era of basketball will begin at Spain Park High School during the 2023-2024 basketball season after former head coach Mike Chase left for Gulf Shores and passed the torch off to John Hadder.

Despite the leadership change, the Jags won’t have a leader who is in stranger to the postseason with Hadder coming from Vincent Middle High School where he led the boys to the postseason in the 2A classification 16 consecutive years with at least a trip to the sub-regional round.

Now, he not only steps up several classifications, but he will move from boys basketball to girls basketball as the new leader of the Jaguars after racking up nearly 300 wins with the Yellow Jackets.

“I feel really privileged and have enjoyed working with them so far,” Hadder said of his new squad heading into the season. “It’s a big change for me—a different school, working with girls instead of guys, it’s a little different. But I’ve enjoyed it.”

Hadder said the transition from coaching boys to coaching girls hasn’t been a huge shift, mainly because the expectations remain the same.

“I thought there would be more difference than there has been,” he said. “Players are players and basketball is basketball. For the kids, you want them to understand why you do what you do. That’s the standard across the board and we’re still trying to figure that out daily. How you practice is who you are. Sometimes, our practice habits daily are not what they need to be. Sometimes, encouraging, other times having to hammer it home.”

For the new head coach, he said the biggest challenge will be competing at the 7A level with a young group of players who know there is growing to do.

“There is no sugar coating it, we have a lot of work to do,” Hadder said. “We won one game last year and play in the highest classification with great programs around us. A lot of work to do as a team too. We are behind in that regard. This summer was not typically the summer we would usually have. We were playing catch up. The good thing about basketball is that it’s not how great you are in November, it’s how well you play in January and February.”

For the team to have success, they will have to rely heavily on young players for the second year in a row with only two seniors on the roster and one of those two injured and out for the season.

That will make it an important year for the junior class, including leaders Jordyn Corey and Campbell Busby.

“They’re two of the most dedicated people we have in our program,” Hadder said. “When I say that, we have some committed and some interested, but these two are on the dedicated side. We are trying to find more that will jump into that boat. It will be an ongoing process.”

Both guards who can shoot the ball will be focused on an improved defensive intensity while finding the right shot this season.

“His expectation is high, and he won’t lower it for us,” Corey said of her new coach. “He’s done a good job of showing us we can be better and what we have been doing can be improved. We’re capable of more. We were in need of a fresh start and it has been refreshing him coming in and showing us a new philosophy.”

Busby said that Hadder has helped them grow as a young group, showing what the potential can be.

“I think this year will be better and practice has shown us that we can be better,” Busby said. “Going into games, we can get wins. Games will be a lot closer this year if we work every day to get better. We are more structured, more put together than we were last year. We also have a bright future with the young kids coming up.”

The young group will feature several ninth graders contributing this year as well as two seventh grade guards that Hadder says are well ahead of their age.

Ava Leonard will be the point guard and Hadder said the sky is the limit for her because she understands the game and already seems older than a seventh grader, while Nylah Calhoun will be the two guard with a high ceiling as an athletic playmaker.

The two have been playing together since they were kids and the chemistry between them shows on the court.

Hadder said despite the youth, the goal is for this team to improve as the season goes along and to be a team that people have to play their best to beat.

“We want to be competitive,” he said. “If we show up, you’re going to have to play well to beat us. We’re not making promises about what we think we can do, but we want to be at the point where when you see is in January and February, teams know we’re going to battle them. Get to the point where you’re competitive in games, find yourself in games where people may not think you can win and all of a sudden, you’re in those games.”

Hadder said the goal is to be a gritty group defensively, while the offense will be built to understand spacing the floor while taking the smart shot rather than just any shot.

Spain Park will open the season on Tuesday, Nov. 7 with a road trip to Gardendale. The Jags will play their first home game a week later on Nov. 14 against Vestavia Hills.