Ace in the hole: Austin earns fourth consecutive All-Cherokee County girls basketball MVP

Spring Garden’s Ace Austin drives to the basket against Skyline during the Class 1A Northeast Regional final at Jacksonville State University’s Pete Mathews Coliseum back in February. Photo by Shannon Fagan.

COMING FRIDAY: All-Cherokee County Boys Basketball Team

By Shannon Fagan, WEIS Sports Director

In almost all card games, nothing trumps an ace.

The same can be said of Spring Garden’s Ace Austin.

Ace is having the type of high school sports career most kids only dream of. She’s guided the Lady Panthers on three consecutive state championship runs, volleyball last fall sandwiched between back-to-back basketball titles. She secured Most Valuable Player honors in all three. She’s also been a member of five straight Cherokee County championship teams.

Just last week, she was named the state’s Gatorade Girls Basketball Player of the Year, to the North All-Star Girls Basketball squad, and to the Alabama Sports Writers Association Class 1A All-State First Team.

On Wednesday morning, Ace was named a finalist once again as the ASWA Class 1A Girls Player of the Year. She claimed that honor last year.

The Alabama commitment is on quite the winning streak, which also includes her fourth consecutive All-Cherokee County Most Valuable Player honor.

Ace, the Lady Panthers’ point guard, averaged 20.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 7.1 assists and 3.6 steals per game for Spring Garden last season. She capped Spring Garden’s remarkable 33-1 season with a 35-point, 12-rebound, four-assist and four-steal performance in a 63-31 victory over Marion County in the Class 1A state championship game at Legacy Arena in Birmingham back on Feb. 29. It was the second straight year the Lady Panthers defeated Marion County for the 1A title.

For Spring Garden’s opponents, the scary part about all of Ace’s accomplishments is she still has one more year of high school ball left to play.

“I know there’s been a lot of great memories that have happened here, crazy records that have been set and all the banners we’ve had (put up in the gym), but of course there’s still room for more up there,” Ace said. “Maybe we’ve got one (basketball state championship) in us next year, maybe another one in volleyball. It’s crazy to think about. I’m super-thankful and blessed to be a part of it. It wouldn’t be possible without any of my teammates, coaches, my teachers, the community that supports me. It’s an honor.”

Even with all of her other individual accolades, Ace says it’s also an honor for her to be considered the top girls basketball player in Cherokee County.

“Many people may not think it means a lot to me, but it does,” she said. “I’m thankful to have a county that has multiple good players. I don’t think many counties have that. You have (teammates) Libby (Brown) and Chloe (Rule) who are also good, (Sand Rock’s) Katelyn St.Clair and (Cherokee County’s) Mary Hayes Johnson. I’m just thankful to have that many people who can come out here and play basketball. I’m glad I get to play with and against them.”

Ace’s father and head coach Ricky Austin feels the same.

“There are good players in this county, and there are good players on this team who could win an MVP as well. When I look at that and see just where we are as a team and as a county and who we’re competing with, that kind of thing is still so special. All you’ve got to do is look at the list of people who have been there and realize how special it is,” Coach Austin said.

Joining Ace from Spring Garden’s loaded deck on the All-Cherokee County Girls Basketball Team is Brown (a senior guard), Rule (a senior center), and Maggie Jarrett (a junior forward).

Brown averaged 13.3 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 2.4 steals per contest. Rule posted 12.2 points, five rebounds, an assist and 1.4 steals. Jarrett tallied 8.6 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.2 steals.

Representing Sand Rock is senior guard St.Clair, senior forward Zoey Handy and senior forward Kennedy Henderson.

St.Clair, a Class 2A Player of the Year finalist, collected 23.7 points, 6.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.5 steals per game. Handy had 11 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 2.3 steals. Henderson managed 6.5 points, 7.9 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.3 assists.

Chosen from Cherokee County is senior guard Johnson, sophomore guard Nevaeh Gaidurgis and sophomore guard Ellisan Givens.

Johnson accounted for 14.6 points, four rebounds, three assists and 4.9 steals per outing. Gaidurgis gained 10.1 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.1 assists and two steals. Givens contributed six points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2.4 deflections and 2.3 steals.

Cedar Bluff and Gaylesville had two selections each.

Sophomore guard Kylie Vadon and senior forward Za’niya Kyle represent Cedar Bluff. Vadon averaged 15.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 3.1 steals. Kyle contributed 6.7 points, 6.5 rebounds, an assist and two steals.

Senior guards Gracie Dawson and Emma Givens were chosen from Gaylesville.

Dawson delivered 12.5 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 3.2 steals. Givens averaged six points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.7 steals.

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