STATE TOURNAMENT (2A GIRLS): Resurgent Cold Springs set for semifinal clash against Lanett

Feb. 24—Much has changed for Tammy West and Cold Springs since the state tournament last rolled around.

Just last February, the Lady Eagles suffered only their third-ever losing campaign under their longtime coach, a tough season in which the Blue and Gold — undone by injury and inexperience — failed to reach the round of 32 for the first time since 1994.

What a difference a year can make.

That rare setback was all the motivation needed for Cold Springs, which on Wednesday punched its ticket to the Final Four — the program's seventh under West — with a 70-60 triumph against No. 9 Francis Marion in the championship game of the Central Regional Tournament.

To say West has enjoyed the turnaround would be an understatement.

"The year before that (2021-22 season) we had lost seven seniors, and that's huge for a (Class) 2A school," she said. "None of the girls except Malaya (Taylor) had any varsity experience. They were all thrown in the fire, and then we had an injury to Ella (Dickerson). But we battled, and I saw progress throughout the year. I knew they were willing to work in the offseason — and they did.

"With Ella back and with the addition of Maci (Brown), I saw something in them last summer. I saw that we could become something special. They worked hard and I worked hard. We really focused on changing things up. It was a growing offseason for them and for me. But they were sponges. They were eager to learn and they absorbed what I told them. I trusted them and they trusted me. They're the sweetest kids to be around. It's a special little group."

The Class 2A No. 1 Lady Eagles (30-2) begin their quest for a fifth state championship on Monday at 6 p.m. against No. 3 Lanett (24-2). The winner will play either No. 2 Mars Hill Bible (24-5) or No. 6 Geneva County (27-6) — that semifinal clash is set for Monday at 3 p.m. — on Friday at 9 a.m.

The Lady Panthers defeated No. 8 Pisgah (69-65) and No. 7 Ider (52-46) en route to claiming the Northeast Regional Tournament title at Jacksonville State.

Lanett's Nakeriona Heard, a freshman guard, earned MVP accolades after totaling 24 points against Pisgah and 21 points against Ider, while Laila Lancaster corralled 20 points and 16 rebounds over the two matchups to join her teammate on the All-Tournament Team.

Lancaster, a 6-foot-4 junior, is one of six Lanett players measuring 5 feet 10 inches or taller, which no doubt played in role in the Lady Panthers outscoring those aforementioned opponents 86-34 in the paint.

With that in mind, West knows it'll be a big challenge for her squad.

"Their size will definitely be a mismatch for us," she said. "I've watched them play teams like us, but we do have a little more size than those other teams. Some of the games we've played in the past two weeks are going to help us as far as playing against an athletic guard and playing against size and aggressive rebounders."

While her team may not boast any experience on the grand stage, both West and assistant coach Paige Parker Adams — who won two state titles at Cold Springs as a player — have plenty to go around.

Neither have shied away from discussing with the team what lies ahead in Birmingham.

"We've talked to them all year about how much fun it is and what all they'll get to experience," West said. "These girls work hard and they want to have fun. When we tell them things they are going to get to do, they get wide eyes and smiles. Getting away from Wallace (State) and playing our games at Bill Harris (Arena) was good for us. Getting through regionals and those two games is going to be helpful."

Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 236 or at