After a disappointing end to her sophomore season, Marion County forward Ansley Whitley stressed to her team how important unselfishness was for their goals. With newfound focus and teamwork, Whitley was a big part of the Lady Eagles’ push to go further than they ever had before.
Whitley was a dominant force down low for Marion County, averaging 15 points and 17 rebounds per game. Whitley’s presence played an important role for a Lady Eagles squad which won 25 games and reached the Class A-Public state championship game.
Thanks to her strong season, Whitley has been named the 2017-2018 All-Bi-City Small School Girls Basketball Player of the Year.
“I have a feeling that this was our best year as a team, working as a team and not as individuals. As a whole team, we all play our role. That’s how we win games,” Whitley said. “We said, ‘We have to play as a team. We have to share the ball. It doesn’t matter if you have 0 points -- if you have 10 assists, it’s all worth it. If you have five blocks, if you have two charges, if you have six steals, it’s all about good defense.’”
Marion County was fresh off a state semifinals run entering the 2017-2018 season, and Whitley was determined to help the team one-up that this go around. Those plans, however, took a detour after the third game, when a high ankle sprain forced Whitley to sit.
Whitley said she was out about 13 games, but her time on the sidelines helped her expand her basketball IQ.
“From the bench, that is the best place to know more about your team,” Whitley said. “You know what you have to do and you know how you can beat people. That’s the best thing. You can watch film, but on the bench you can see everything happening. I think we grew from then.”
Whitley returned just in time for an important stretch of games for Marion County and helped the Lady Eagles take down region rival Greenville in a 67-63 shootout in the region tournament. A five-point victory over Macon County the following day gave Whitley and her teammates the tournament title and the No. 3 overall seed in the Class A-Public tournament.
After blowout victories against Gordon Lee and Pelham, Marion County made its return to the semifinals with a game against Terrell County. Although this was as far as the Lady Eagles had gotten the previous year, Whitley said there was a confidence within her team that was hard to ignore and a drive to go one game further, where they would face Greenville yet again.
A 45-40 win over Terrell County punched Marion County’s ticket to the state title game.
Whitley explained that as the team warmed up in the Macon Centreplex, the surrealness of the experience really hit her. However, once the game got underway, Whitley said it was back to business.
“You go in, you see all the bright lights and all the fans. People cheer from you from other counties, places you don’t know,” Whitley said. “After the whistle blew (to start the game), it was just another game. Nothing phased you. The fans didn’t phase you. You could barely even hear them.”
The game ultimately didn’t go Marion County’s way, as Greenville guard Brittany Davis led the Lady Patriots to a blowout win. Even though the Lady Eagles are losing five seniors from the state runner-up squad, Whitley is determined for the team to come back strong.
Whitley said she wants herself and twin sister Ashley, who had a game-high 18 rebounds in the state title game, to establish themselves as the best posts in the region. Whitley and her teammates nearly made history in her junior year, and with one season left as a Lady Eagle, she hopes coming so close pays dividends in the near future.
“We lost, and people were like, ‘Good job I guess.’ I hate hearing that. ‘Well, y’all had a good season. You made it there,’” Whitley said. “They always say losing builds you and failure helps you. I’m going to see if it’s true. We’ll test it this year.”