By Harrison Tarr
For the Observer
The Opelika women’s basketball program has had a roller coaster of a season to this point. The Bulldogs are 9-9 on the season, 2-1 in area play and were recently given the opportunity to celebrate senior guard Haley Sanders’ 1000th career point as a member of the team.
First year head coach Blake Smalley took the opportunity to look back at his team’s accomplishments to this point and admitted his excitement that his team is very much in the conversation for postseason contention.
The group begins with Sanders, a standout dating back to her freshman campaign in the 2018-19 season.
“She’s been a part of a team that’s been to multiple final fours,” Smalley said. “Obviously she had a big impact early on in her career. As a freshman she was playing varsity and that’s continued on.”
Despite being the Bulldogs’ offensive leader on a nightly basis, Sanders’ head coach does not view her as a player who tries to do more than she is asked.
“I wouldn’t say her goal is to score every time she touches the ball,” Smalley said. “She values the ball, shares the ball well. It’s one of those things where she has the opportunity to score 1,000 points and that’s a big accomplishment for her.”
Although the offense may run predominantly through Sanders, the senior cannot win every contest on her own; the group around her is a continually developing squad who’s head coach believes in to continue improving.
“I think that’s always the case no matter who you’re coaching or what you’re coaching,” Smalley said. “An individual can only achieve so much, the team has got to work to become one in order to achieve all the goals that they set for each other.”
According to Smalley, the culture of hard work and collective desire to improve is prominent in this year’s group of Bulldogs.
“I think everybody is locked in,” Smalley said. “But I wouldn’t say there ever really weren’t. They’re always working to try to get better, never satisfied.”
The collaborative mentality of improvement and playing for one another will likely prove imperative when the time rolls around for the red and black to make a run in the 2022 ASHAA tournament, a feat Smalley still believes to be tangible.
“Basketball is a lot different than most sports,” Smalley said. “You can be o-fer in the win-loss column and get hot at the right time and make a run. So I think everything we want to accomplish is still reachable. I think everything is still right there in front of us.”
Sanders, Smalley and the rest of the Bulldogs returned to the court on Tuesday evening and improved to 3-1 in the region with a 57-16 win over Russell County.