Loaded for a run
East Ascension and their Hall of Fame head coach Kenny Almond aren't living in the past, but their upset loss to Byrd in the opening round of last year's playoffs still stings.
It was a bitter end to a season filled with so many highlights.
Almond won his 800th career game en route to his Spartans going a perfect 10-0 in the brutal District 5-5A. They rode the momentum to a 26-7 overall record and No. 7 seeding in the playoffs before their shocking early departure.
Almond knows that loss still lingers, but he doesn't want his team to focus on last year's disappointing end but instead, take things one game at a time.
"We've talked about it, but that's a long way from now," Almond said. "It's something we're certainly not proud of, but we had a great season and lost to a very good Byrd team, and we're just hoping we'll do much better when we get to the playoffs this year but for now, we just want to focus on the next game."
The Spartans lost three starters from their district championship squad of a year ago in Jamal Stewart, Devonte Fisher and DeAundre Smith.
All three were all-district selections. And along with being the starting point guard, Stewart was one of three players named Defensive MVP.
"We lost a lot of leadership when we lost those guys. They provided a lot of offense for us," Almond said.
However, even with their departures, East Ascension is still loaded for a deep playoff run.
They return a first-team all-district player in Javaughn Williams and a hard-working 6'7, 235-pound big man in Jacardo Hawkins.
"It helps a lot to have those guys back," Almond said. "Javaughn is a great scorer for us, and Jacardo really helps us out on the defensive end and is a great rebounder. Both are tremendous assets to our team."
And with those two returning, the Spartans added a player in Jeremy McInnis this offseason that was an all-district performer at Parkview Baptist a year ago. Almond couldn't be more happy to add the transfer to the mix.
"He adds a whole lot. He has really fit in well since he's gotten here," Almond said. "He was a really good player for Parkview last year. He's a very good ball-handler, and we're very excited about him being here."
With his new-look squad, Almond has already seen one major improvement from last season.
"Last year, our offense was really good, but I think we had some defensive lapses," Almond said. "This year, I think we're much better defensively, and I think the depth that we have really helps out with that. I think we'll improve offensively as the season goes on."
They'll have to if they want to repeat as district champions. The league is stout as usual and includes last year's state runner-up McKinley and a veteran St. Amant squad that is primed to have a breakout year.
So far, East Ascension has navigated through their early-season non-district schedule quite well as they've cruised out to a 3-0 start.
The real indicator of what kind of championship potential they have will surface once they began the district tilt. Regardless, Almond thinks his team will be just fine.
"We want to do as well as we possibly can, maybe add some more wins this year," Almond said. "Achieving our goals will be difficult with the district we play in, but we want to repeat what we did last year, and I think we have the ability to do that."