F200214 florence girls vs spain Park

Florence's Kennedi Hawkins shoots as Spain Park's Katie Flannery defends during the Northwest Regional Tournament semifinals at Wallace State Community College on Thursday. [JERONIMO NISA/DECATUR DAILY]

HANCEVILLE — The Florence girl’s basketball team had one of its best seasons in recent history, but ran into a buzzsaw on Thursday in the 7A Northwest Regional, having no answer for Spain Park in a 64-29 loss.

Florence kept pace early in the first quarter with the Jaguars, running its usual dribble-drive offense.

But Spain Park, led by Georgia commit Sarah Ashlee Barker, exploded on an 18-6 run before halftime. The Jaguars kept it rolling in the second half, holding the Falcons scoreless in the third quarter. Barker finished the game with 24 points and 11 rebounds.

“We’ve had trouble scoring during the year sometimes … and we had trouble scoring today,” Florence head coach Will Copeland said. “That hurt us a lot. They’ve got a great team, Barker is a great player. There’s not much room for error against them.”

While Florence didn’t have its best game offensively, Kya Weakley managed to score in double-figures, leading the Falcons with 11 points.

After finishing 5-19 in 2019, Florence, led by four seniors under Copeland in his first year as head coach, finished 21-10. The last time the Falcons reached 10 wins was in 2015 when they went 14-13.

Copeland, on the other hand, deferred to his players on the team’s turnaround. He said while most teams might struggle to buy into a new coach, he didn’t have that experience with this team.

“They bought in since day one,” Copeland. “Proud of our seniors. That’s the first thing I said, I’m proud of you, you bought in to a new coach. We had a really good season.”

Senior Hannah Thomas explained that she and the three other seniors had a successful season in their last year in middle school. When Copeland came in, the group shared the same mindset.

“We knew what winning tasted like (from that), but (this year) we had a coach that spoke to what we wanted to do,” Thomas said. “We focused on discipline basketball. Unity, we all had one goal.”

Weakley said Copeland didn’t just change the approach mentally, but also physically, which led to success.

“We appreciate him for that,” Weakley said.

Going forward, Copeland hopes the buy-in and success from the year carries over into the future.

“We want to get to the point where we’re not satisfied with just being here,” Copeland said. “We want to come down here, win a game and be able to make it to Birmingham, that’s our goal.”

michael.hebert@timesdaily.com. or 256-740-5737. Twitter @md_hebert55

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