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Vina girls continue to build on success

By Bart Moss for the FCT


Every day, on the way into the Vina High School gym, several young ladies who make up the Vina Lady Red Devil basketball team glance up at the rafters and see the banners that motivate them to achieve excellence.

The girls believe in big goals and big dreams, but they also know they can’t achieve those goals if they don’t stay focused on the present. That is their coach’s responsibility.

“These girls think big,” said Coach Richie Hester. “They walk into that gym every day and see those banners, and they want to live up to that standard and that tradition. I know it’s cliché, but I tell them every day, we take it one game at a time. Never get ahead of yourself.”

The banners Hester is referring to are the state championship banners from the 1981 and 1982 teams and the state runner-up banner from 1992. There is also a physical reminder of those glory days at practice and on the bench with Hester: Angie Bolton. Bolton was a member of the early 80s championship teams.

“She is a great help,” said Hester. “She knows what it takes, and she helps keep these girls grounded.”

So far, this Vina team’s quest for excellence has only one blemish. The team has twelve wins and only one loss – an area loss to Phillips.

“That one is on us,” said sharp-shooting guard Abby Hester. “We were 4-for-44 from the three-point line and missed a lot of free throws. So, guess what we were doing in practice the next day?”

The Red Devils shoot a lot of shots in games, and that’s what they focus on in practice. It’s not all about shooting thought. Practice can get kind of rough.

“Our practices are very physical,” said tenth grader Emma Humphres. “We leave with plenty of bruises. We get after loose balls, and we get on the floor and get after the ball. We also want to be physical in the lane and get rebounds.”

Hester said he believes the way a team practices will translate to games.

“I believe you play like you practice,” said Hester. “If you just go through the motions in practice, you will go through the motions in games. We treat practice as much like a game as we can. During the off-season we scheduled a lot of Mississippi teams. They play very physical across the state line, and it has definitely helped us.”

Senior leader Mary Clingan said she and the rest of the team have bought in.

“We like to be aggressive,” said Clingan. “It’s taken a lot of sweat and tears to get this point. We can see that what we’ve been working so hard for is paying off.”

The team is young. In fact, the core group of players that get the bulk of playing time read like stairsteps: Gracie Raper (8th grade), Kaitlyn King and Sarah Johnson (9th grade), Emma Humphres (10th grade), Abby Hester (11th grade), and Mary Clingan (12th grade).

“We are young,” said Hester. “We don’t use that as an excuse. We use it as motivation. We hope people will underestimate us. These girls have a lot of fight and maturity in them for their age.”

One would think the broad age differences in the team would hurt team chemistry, but, in fact, it helps.

“We love being around each other,” said Abby Hester. “We are always group texting each other. We work really well together and want to succeed badly.”

The team’s main weakness, according to Clingan, is their inability to focus and listen well – a weakness of most teens.

“We don’t listen very well,” said Clingan. “Coach Hester is very patient with us. He has to repeat a lot of things.”

Hester said age has a lot to with his patience level.

“I think I’ve mellowed out a lot as I’ve gotten older,” said Hester. “I’ve learned to be patient. In the past I would tell the girls to slow down and freeze the ball. Before I’ve finished talking, someone has fired up a three.

“Seriously, when you are dealing with young kids, it pays to be patient and listen. They really want to learn. They want to do something Vina hasn’t done in a long time. Are they capable? Absolutely.”

Vina will play two more games before the Christmas break. After traveling to Hubbertville this week, they will back home Dec. 20, when they will face off with Athens Bible. They will participate in the Waterloo Christmas Tournament Dec. 26 and 27 before getting ready for the critical January run-up to the area tournaments – where their dreams will begin.