Although the Escambia County Middle School girls basketball team’s only setback during the 2017 season caused a mild degree of disappointment for first-year coach Kristan Wasdin, the overall performance of her scrappy team more than compensated for the loss.
The Lady Eagles, who went 1-12 last year, reversed their fortunes and ran — sometimes wildly — past their opponents to wind up with a 12-1 mark that makes them one of the best girls teams in school history.
“I didn’t know what to expect before the season started,” said Wasdin, who taught but did not coach at Escambia Academy the previous year. “I didn’t know much about the (ECMS) program. I knew the sport, but I had to learn how to coach it. I had no idea we would have this kind of season.”
The team was even able to avenge its only loss, at the hands of W.S. Neal Middle School, which was also enjoying a banner season.
“We lost to W.S. Neal at their gym, then they came here and we beat them,” Wasdin explained. “They took our undefeated season; we took theirs, so that gave us a little bit of revenge.”
The novice coach said a team full of solid ball-handlers was the key to 2017’s dream season, and Athletic Director Layton Knight, who coached the school’s boys to a 14-0 record, agreed.
“Last year she only had one good ball-handler, Jayla Adams, and this year she had three or four,” Knight said. “That’s where the big turnaround came from. These girls are quick and they know how to play defense.”
Wasdin, who has several players 5 feet, 7 inches or taller, said the height advantage and the eventual maturity of the entire team played a huge role as the season progressed.
“You look at some of these girls and you don’t remember that they’re in middle school because they’re so tall,” she said. “I had to slow them down several times, especially early in the year, but girls mature a little later than boys in athletics, and they really picked it up at the end of the season.”
She said self-discipline would be a key for any of the girls who had aspirations of playing basketball at a higher level.
“They’ve got to learn to set up the plays and let the plays work for them,” the coach said. “In high school there is more structured play and some girls that can play some major defense.”
Three Lady Eagles — Adams, Betts and Maykayla Lyons — are learning that first-hand after having been promoted to the Escambia County High School varsity squad, where they are reportedly “in the top-three scorers” for the Lady Blue Devils.
Now Wasdin has to wonder whether the dream season was really a dream, or if the success represents reality.
“It will be hard to keep our reputation after going 12-1,” she said. “People will be wanting to see if we’re really that good, or if we were just lucky.”