Troup seniors standing tall
By Kevin Eckleberry
LAGRANGE – They were on top of the world.
The 2011-2012 season was a special one for the Troup Lady Tigers, who won a region championship and reached the elite eight of the state tournament.
That was a senior-laden team that featured future college players Tanisha Jackson and Shamiya Brooks.
The following handful of seasons weren’t kind to the Lady Tigers, though, who found wins hard to come by, but things are looking up once again.
Last season, the Lady Tigers finished with a losing record, but they broke through and reached the state tournament for the first time since that memorable 2011-2012 campaign.
The momentum has carried over to this season, and the Lady Tigers (7-5 overall, 0-1 in Region 5-AAAA) will carry a winning record into today’s showdown with the rival LaGrange Lady Grangers.
If the Lady Tigers prevail today, they would have the most wins of any Troup team since the exceptional one from five years ago.
This year’s matchup with LaGrange takes on added meaning since, unlike previous seasons, the two teams are sharing the same region.
The program’s turnaround has been spurred in large part by the four seniors, Kwyneshia Spence, Akhya Mitchell, Keya Sands and Cortney Alexander.
On Monday afternoon, those four players joined their teammates on the practice court as they prepared for today’s big game, with head coach Carla Thornton leading the way.
While Alexander didn’t join the program until her sophomore season after transferring from LaGrange, Spence, Mitchell and Sands have all been at Troup for four seasons.
They went through some lean times, including a one-win season when they were freshmen, but they persevered, and they’re enjoying being on the winning end of things now.
“We’re really better off than last year,” said Keya Sands, who has overcome to severe knee injuries to get back on the court. “We’re all on the same page mentally and physically. We’re very competitive.”
Sands is just glad to be playing.
She suffered two ACL injuries, one in practice and one while playing for her AAU team, and both times she had surgery, and went through the rehab and fought to get back with her teammates.
“Mentally, I wasn’t really worried,” Sands said. “Physically, I just had to get used to playing again, to jumping off two feet.”
Sands said she doesn’t think about the injuries when she’s playing
“I was ready,” she said. “I had my mind set. I couldn’t baby it anymore.”
Mitchell, who started as a freshman, said the veterans and newer players are all working well together.
“We had to get the new girls incorporated into our program,” she said. “Everybody’s on the same page. It’s all clicking now. We’ve been a young team. Now we’re not. It’s coming along.”
Alexander’s first experience in the rivalry came when she was a freshman at LaGrange High.
She came to Troup for her sophomore season, and she immediately felt like part of the family.
“When I first came here, they immediately made me feel like part of the team,” Alexander said. “It’s been fun.”
Alexander and her teammates will have their hands full tonight.
LaGrange is riding high with a four-game winning streak, and it has won both of its Region 5-AAAA games.
Spence said she and her teammates just need to go do the things that have helped them be successful so far.
“Just go over there and play good defense, and just play like we’ve been playing, and try not to change up anything,” Spence said. “I feel like we’ve been doing good.”
Alexander said the Lady Tigers need to “play as a team.”
“We know what we need to do, and we’re confident,” Alexander added. “We need to play hard, play together, and have fun.”
Mitchell, who has been through so many of these games against LaGrange, said “there’s a lot of pressure,” but she’s looking forward to it.
“Coach always tells us, big-time ballplayers show up in big-time ballgames,” Mitchell said. “So I just give it my all. Something about that game just pumps us up.”
Thornton, whose team went 1-1 against LaGrange last season, said the key for her players will be to stick with the game plan and not let the atmosphere affect them.
“Basically keep your composure,” Thornton said. “Any time you play a rival like that, players tend to play for the crowd rather than their coach. You have to keep them dialed in, and tuned in to what we’re trying to do.”