Ivy and Emma Wallen couldn’t answer the question — how many wins have they been part of since they first became starters in high school until now as they are about to begin their senior season at North Alabama.
“I can count my losses faster than I can count the wins,” Emma admitted recently.
“I have no idea,” added Ivy. “I have never thought about that. I’m assuming I have a lot more wins than losses because I hate losing. I think my first year at UNA we lost more than in my high school career — my family lets us know about things like that.”
For the record, in their eight years as starters in high school and college, teams the Wallens have celebrated 236 wins and hated 41 losses.
Lauderdale County High School won five consecutive state titles with the Wallens in the starting lineup and compiled an overall record of 172-17.
In three years at UNA, the Wallens have helped Missy Tiber’s program to a 64-24 record, including back-to-back 20-win seasons. Heading into their senior season with the Lions, the Wallens hope to cement what already has been a stellar college career.
With their careers winding down in college, both Wallens say they have no regrets on how things have played out.
“Time flies,” Ivy admitted. “I tell everybody I don’t have any regrets. I feel like I have accomplished everything I could in high school, and so far I feel like I have made a statement here at UNA. I am pretty satisfied going into my senior year. I plan on winning the (ASUN) championship — that’s always been the goal. Every year we have gotten little better to that point.”
The Wallens will be part of a five-senior starting lineup that should be in the thick of the ASUN Conference championship race in only the Lions second season in Division I.
Ivy, a point guard, is a preseason all-conference selection. She’s coming off a season in which she averaged 13.9 points per game and was eighth nationally at 6.57 assists per game. Most importantly, Ivy is healthy again after undergoing offseason surgery to repair a meniscus tear. It was the third knee surgery of her career, the other two repairing ACL tears.
Ivy said she has never asked the “Why me?’ question when it comes to injuries. She just takes them in stride, rehabs and returns to the court seemingly as good as new.
“I always joke about how good would I be if I didn’t have to restart playing basketball each time,” she said. “Most people don’t realize that when you tear your ACL you have to literally relearn how to jump, run, to the extent of how to shoot a basketball again. The meniscus was no big deal. I woke up from surgery and was like, ‘This is it? OK.’”
There’s no question the Wallens gave the Lions of a jolt of enthusiasm and talent when they arrived on campus. The season before their arrival, the Lions suffered through a 5-22 season. As freshmen, the Wallens helped UNA to a 19-10 record in the Gulf South Conference. It proved to be a turning point for the program.
Next, Tiber added key pieces to the roster in the form of post Brittany Panetti and versatile players such as Ansley Eubank and Kenysha Coulson to form what has become an experienced, veteran starting five.
“Before they came and we started this recruiting process with them, you define them — they are winners,” Tiber said last week. “You knew right away that was never going to change. That’s just the mentality they have. They came out of the womb knowing how to win and what it takes to win.”
As talented as they were in high school, the college game is different — faster, more physical, more nuanced. Tiber knew the Wallens wouldn't shy away from the competition and would have an impact, but she just didn’t know how big that impact would be.
“Did we envision to what it is? Maybe not,” she said. “They obviously are a lot better now than they were in high school. They have come a long way in skill development, just everything. They have helped lay the groundwork for what this program is going to be in the future.”
After the initial 19-10 season with Ivy and Emma in the starting lineup, the Lions have had back-to-back 20-win seasons once Panetti, Eubank and Coulson were added to the mix.
Emma, a shooting guard who averaged 13.4 points per game last season, said she has been asked multiple times about what it feels like going into what could be her final season playing basketball.
“Honestly, it’s exciting,” she said. “We had this build-up for our senior year in high school and now we have it in college. To me it is the same. We have done what we were supposed to do here. We don’t have any regrets. We came in when we were D-2 and were successful there. We had a great first D-1 season. We can only build off that. Once you come in and do things you have set goals to do, and you leave it in a better place, it’s always fun to do that.”
Don’t expect the sisters from Anderson to slack up any in their final season — there’s too much to play for. So far, a conference title has eluded them in college. And, of course, they’re quick to tell you they still love playing.
“I don’t think you can ever not love the game,” Emma said. “I have never hated going to the games or traveling or practicing. Yeah, conditioning is tough, but that is four to six weeks. That’s the hardest part. The rest you are just playing, doing something you always dreamed of doing.
“Some people take it for granted. I look at it like it is our last year. We are having a blast. We had a great practice a few days ago with our practice squad cutting up. Our team was clicking — it was so much fun. It makes it hard not to love the game and look forward to those types of days.”
Ivy’s priority this season is to stay healthy. The main goal is to celebrate a conference title.
“I want to be that player the coaches and my teammates need to be,” she said. “I had too many off games last year. I don’t need to have any of those this season. I want to win conference — that’s the ultimate goal.”
Emma said she has never regretted her choice to come to UNA.
“I’ve never looked back or wondered if I hadn’t come to UNA,” she said. “I think our decisions up to this point have been really good for us and our family and for our town. It’s made it even more special.”