SPRING GARDEN – There have been all sorts of Spring Garden girls basketball players to earn All-Cherokee County Most Valuable Player honors through the years, but eighth grade point guard Ace Austin has been one of the youngest to ever achieve the feat.
That’s saying something, especially with the caliber players the Lady Panthers have turned out through the years, including Austin’s own mother (Dana Bright Austin), her aunt (Jana Bright McGinnis) and multiple-record holder Paige Anderson McDonald.
And just like those Lady Panther greats that have come before her, hearing her name mentioned alongside them isn’t something Ace is letting go to her head.
“I don’t think I’d ever be able to do it without any of my teammates, my coaches, my family,” said Ace, who averaged 16.6 points, 7.4 assists and seven rebounds per contest in leading the Lady Panthers to a 32-3 record last season, Spring Garden’s first in Class 2A. “They push me and know the level I can be. I just take what they say. I’m honored to be able to get it.”
Spring Garden coach and Ace’s father Ricky Austin said he hasn’t really thought much about his daughter earning an All-Cherokee County Most Valuable Player honor at such a young age.
“To put her in the category with all the players in this county, there are a lot of great players in this county, and we’ve got other great players on this team,” Coach Austin said. “She only averaged 16 points a game. We’ve had other girls in this county with a lot more points, but it’s the whole package, that’s what stands out to me. I think that’s what stands out to other coaches. She does so much.
“Without what she does, we wouldn’t have won 32 games. She was a big part of that. She’s got some great teammates, but she does help her teammates a lot also, and her teammates help her. It’s a great tradeoff.”
That great tradeoff almost resulted in another state tournament appearance for the Lady Panthers. Spring Garden fell just short of Birmingham after losing to eventual state champion Pisgah, 72-65 in the regional final in overtime.
In that game, Ace had 26 points, six boards, six assists and three steals. She’s already motivated to lead Spring Garden next season for another deep run at a state championship.
“We got our feet wet. We saw what 2A is like,” Ace said. “I think now, knowing Pisgah is a great team, we’re going to be in 2A to go and win. It’s an honor to be an MVP, but as a team, I would so much rather be a state champ.”
Ace comes by her mentality, and her athleticism, honestly. All of her immediate family members are intense competitors, including brothers Riley and Cooper.
Ace attributes her toughness to them.
“Being with two older brothers can be pretty rough,” she said. “When I was little, we’d always play outside. Some nights I’d come in screaming or be mad at them, and my mom and dad would be like ‘You’re good. Just go out there and play with them.’ Being in this family helps me so much in life with everything I do.”
And being a gym rat like the rest of her family has helped as well.
“When I was little, I’d go to practice with them all the time. I’m pretty sure dad has a video. They would have an early morning practice. They would do 3-on-2 shooting drills, and you’d see a little girl running out there. It was me. I’d get hit a couple of times, but they’d tell me ‘You’re all right. Get up and keep going.’ I’d say they’ve helped me to where I’m at right now. They didn’t think I was just a little girl out there. They were thinking I was just as big as them, just doing what they normally did to other teammates. I think that helped me when I was very little.”
Like his two sons, Coach Austin said his daughter “probably heard a basketball bouncing before she heard her own heartbeat.”
“Before we knew it, she’s sitting still trying to bounce a basketball, trying to simulate what the girls were doing,” he said. “Before she even started school, she was doing drills with our varsity girls. She was doing full-court ball handling, full-court passing drills, shooting drills. I’ve got videos of her, and I think ‘Golly, she’s just a baby and she’s on the court with a basketball in her hand.’
“It wasn’t something me and her mom pushed her into. We just looked up and she always had a ball in her hands. She would get so mad when we would not let her on the court. She said ‘I can do that.’ We’d say ‘No, you’re too small. You’ll get hurt.’ She wasn’t even school age yet.”
Whatever Ace’s secret of already being a great player at such a young age is, her dad hopes it continues for some time to come.
“I’m just wowed by some of the things she does,” he said. “She has a broad range of things she brings to the court. It’s not one-dimensional. I think that might be what a lot of coaches see. I know that’s surely what stands out in my mind when I watch her at practice and I watch her play a game.
“She’s not just a point guard and a facilitator. She’s a scorer. She led us in steals. She led us in rebounds. Her efficiency rating is unbelievable for this year. It includes turnovers, assists, rebounds, points, free throws, field goal percentage. Her averages are higher than most kids’ highs. That stands out to me when I start thinking about this honor she’s received.”
Joining Ace Austin from the Lady Panthers on the All-Cherokee County Girls Basketball Team is junior forward/center Neely Welsh, senior center Lexi Adkison and junior guard/forward Abbey Steward.
Representing Cherokee County (22-8) is senior guard Karlee Perry, junior guard Audrey Green and freshman guard Mary Hayes Johnson.
Chosen from Sand Rock (16-13) is junior guard/forward Lanie Henderson, junior guard Haley Grace Lisenbee and senior forward/center Maci Brown.
Junior point guard Maggie Clowdis and junior guard/forward Jordyn Walker were selected from Cedar Bluff.
Gaylesville junior guard Peyton Bright rounds out the all-county team.
COMING LATER THIS WEEK: All-Cherokee County Boys Basketball Team.