When the Lady Eagles host Ranburne, Ala., at 6 p.m. on Friday, they will bring back six players with significant playing time from a year ago and two more ready to make a contribution right off the bat.
"There's nothing more valuable than experience. You can come out and practice and you can do everything, but until you get that game experience, get out there and get in the heat of battle, that's something you can't practice. That's something you get [by playing]," Mt. Zion coach Bill Bailey said. "We've got some experience coming back, but we're still young. Our top eight are young, but I've been proud of them. They had a real good summer, they've worked hard at practice. We've kind of turned the heat up with the conditioning."
Brittany McIntosh returns as the lone senior, with juniors Jennifer Bagby and Corrssia Perry, who logged plenty of varsity minutes during their two years with the Lady Eagles, also returning. From there, it's sophomores Jordan Crews, Alexis Jordan and Quavadis Kirk, who also picked up plenty of time as freshmen a year ago.
After that are a couple of players in Madison Barrow, who got some varsity time while also playing junior-varsity last year, and Toni Hammond, who comes back to the team.
"We've got Madison Barrow, who will have to play a lot as a guard, Toni Hammond, who is coming back after taking a year off and shooting the ball real well," Bailey said. "We're probably eight or nine deep. That's something we haven't had in a while. We'll still be young, but we're excited."
And while they may be young, several of Bailey's players got experience playing on the big stage as part of Millie Grimes' softball team that placed third in the state earlier this year.
"Real proud of the girls. We have a lot of girls in our freshman and sophomore classes that are good athletes. Down the road, basketball looks good at Mt. Zion. We've got all those girls that finished third in the state in softball. I think that's big that they showed they know how to compete and how to win. That's a big thing," Bailey said.
The new-look Region 6-A keeps several of the powerhouses in Gordon Lee and Darlington, while adding a few others.
"We've got some new faces in our region. Definitely in a powerhouse region when you've got Gordon Lee, Darlington and Southwest Atlanta, who were all in the elite eight last year. And most of them are back. That's three very good teams. Then you throw in Trion, which is always a good basketball team, and Christian Heritage, who played for the finals," Bailey said. "We're in a tough league."
But even in a tough region and with a young team, Bailey knows his team has the ability to make some noise this season.
"It's going to be interesting. We have a shot to have a good season if we keep everybody healthy and take care of the basketball. That's going to be one of the big things. I think we should have a height factor on a few people [with Jordan and Kirk]," Bailey said.
At this point, the team is ready to get into the season. With practices starting back on Oct. 29, the Lady Eagles are excited to meet another team on the court.
"We've been practicing since, well we started when we could, so we're ready to play somebody else. We're tired of seeing each other out here," Bailey said.