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‘A bigger Spring Garden’: Welsh joins Berry basketball program

Spring Garden senior forward Neely Welsh signed a basketball scholarship with Berry College on Monday morning. Sitting from left is Mark Welsh (father), Neely Welsh and Ann Welsh (mother). Standing from left are brothers Jacob Welsh, John Welsh, Luke Welsh, sister Sarah Welsh, and brother Levi Welsh. Photo by Shannon Fagan.

SPRING GARDEN – Spring Garden girls basketball coach Ricky Austin said senior forward Neely Welsh has always been what he calls a “detailed and planned” person.

One of the most recent examples of that is she reached out to Berry College herself to see if a scholarship was available for her talent.

On Monday morning, all of the detail and planning Welsh has done throughout her high school career finally paid off.

Welsh signed a basketball scholarship with the Vikings, just one day after it was announced she had earned a spot on the Alabama Sports Writers Association Class 2A All-State Girls Basketball Second Team. She averaged 17.4 points, 5.6 boards, two assists and 1.7 steals for the Lady Panthers (31-2) last season.

Welsh will join her brother Luke and fellow Panther Chaz Pope as current Spring Garden athletes within the Viking athletic program. Luke Welsh is a sophomore tight end on the football team. Pope just signed a football scholarship with Berry on Thursday.

“It definitely was a dream of mine,” Welsh said. “I can’t say I had a certain sport I picked out. Honestly, I never thought I’d pick basketball. I had some opportunities to play volleyball, but in the end I think Berry was just where I wanted to call home the next four years.

“It’s kind of like a bigger Spring Garden to me there. There’s nature everywhere. It feels like home. It helps a lot that my brother’s there, and I’ll have one of my best friends (Pope) going there. I know it’s going to be a completely different world, but it’ll make me feel better knowing I’ve got two of my lifelong friends there.”

Austin said Berry is “getting a good one.”

“They’re getting someone who can still grow,” he said. “I don’t know if they realize that yet, how much growth she still has toward this sport, but I think she’s going to end up being a phenomenal player for them.
“It’s really neat to see a kid have aspirations and dreams. This is the reward. She knows what she’s wanted to do. She’s always been detailed and planned things out, and that’s exactly what she’s done here.”

But it hasn’t been an easy path for Welsh. Back when she was a freshman, at the beginning of the season she had trouble breathing and felt like passing out while running wind sprints. A trip to the doctor revealed she was anemic. She needed a blood transfusion to help fix the problem.

Following the transfusion, Welsh felt like a new person. She went on to earn three state championships, five area championships, three county championships, and numerous all-area, all-county and all-state honors.
For her career, she posted 2,045 points, 773 rebounds, 290 assists and 265 steals.

“It was a struggle definitely. I’ve had some ups and downs. It was a tough road getting here,” Welsh said.

“When that (anemia) straightened out, we were like ‘Wow, it’s Superwoman recharged,’” Austin said. “Once she fought through that, she’s been steadily going up. Her window is still open. I don’t think she’s reached her full potential. The reason I can say that is I know what she has done in the other two sports she plays outside of basketball, the dedication she has. She’s going to continue to grow and become a good player.”

And not just a good player, but Austin feels Welsh will continue to be a great teammate for the basketball players at Berry.

“As a parent of a player who has played with Neely, Ace (Austin) coming in as a seventh grader and leaning on Neely, and watching how Neely was that mother hen, just to reach out and wrap her wings around her, that’s been really fun to watch,” Austin said. “It’s special.”

Welsh said it’s going to be bittersweet to leave her Spring Garden days behind.

“It’s an honor just to say I got to play for Spring Garden girls’ basketball program. That just gives you a good feeling,” she said. “As a little girl, I never really thought highly of myself. I never thought I’d have been one of the top players in our program, but it’s definitely an honor.

“If you play for Coach Rat (Austin), you know how tough it is, but I’m thankful I got to be part of a program like this. It’s taught me to be a better person and how to live my life. I’m just proud of it all.”

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