Taking Flight

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 20, 2004

The Fort Dale men's and women's basketball team did something that many teams in the Alabama Independent School Association dream about doing. They won the state championship.

To make the other teams in the AISA even more envious of their programs, they did it at the same time.

Coming into the 2004-2005 season, both the Eagles and the Lady Eagles are the defending champions. And both squads are coached by the same person, Reggie Mantooth.

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The Lady Eagles should be competitive again this season.

"We've got a lot of experience returning from last year so we are expecting to have a good year," said Mantooth. "Went to camp this summer, a lot of girls that played a good bit last year know our system and know what to expect. So we're excited about the year and should be successful. We have a good group returning. We hope to do well again this year."

The Lady Eagles got a taste of college basketball during the summer when they went to the Troy University team camp and were taught by actual college basketball players.

Even with that, coming into the season as a defending state champion can be tough.

"I don't know that there is any pressure necessarily," said Mantooth. "We just expect to do well. We try to put that in the past, we celebrated it a lot last year and we are getting ready for this year. We are trying to plan more for this year and expect to do well but not have the pressure to do well. Faith was a really good team last year and will be really big competition for us. Morgan will be tough too, in our area and has a lot of their top players back."

Fort Dale will be the area with Morgan, Hooper and Monroe.

Mantooth expects his team to perform well.

"I expect Laura Skipper and Wesley Atkins are both seniors and this is their third year starting to do well and Frances Watts, she's a junior point guard and should do well for us this season."

The Lady Eagles aren't the only squad under Mantooth's reign that's expected to succeed this season.

The Eagles are also defending AAA state champions.

"Weve got a big group of seniors, but not a lot of experience in that senior class," said Mantooth. "We lost four starters from last season and Mason Bass is the only returning starter from last year. I feel good just after a couple of practices that will play hard and play together. A lot of things are going to be learned during the game because there is not much game competition out there."

Mantooth expects the competition his squad faces to be tough, both in and out of area play.

"Morgan in our area will be our biggest competition," said Mantooth. "Outside the area, I'd say Cottage Hill is the favorite to win it all. Bessemer is really good. Faith will be good. I don't think there is one clear cut favorite, but all those will have good teams based on what they have coming back."

Is a state championship possible for an inexperienced team?

"Our goal is to repeat," said Mantooth. "We know how to win and we expect to be there at the end. I don't want to say it's a rebuilding year, but we have less experience and we should get better as the year goes on."

Besides success, another consistent aspect of Fort Dale basketball is their style of play.

"We pretty much play the same style," said Mantooth. "Some of the plays may be slightly different or we may do some things different with the girls than we do with the guys but both of us are going to try to play man-to-man, full-court pressure defense. But offensively it may change up between who we have on the court."

Being at the helm of a single team can be tough, but doing it with two state champions is never easy.

"It's difficult, seems to get more difficult each year the older I get," Mantooth said. "I've told people in the past that it's easier having two knowledgeable squads each year and that makes it easier each year. Sometimes when one team may be a little less experienced like this year then we have a team like our girls who are experienced to make it a little easier coaching both of them at the same time if one is a little more experienced than the other."

But, for Mantooth, the games are what's the toughest.

"The games are probably the most difficult aspect of it," said Mantooth. "Going from one game to the next especially if you have a tough loss or a close loss or something like that."

Mantooth does have assistants. William Johnson coaches the junior high school boys team and will assist with the varsity boys. Johnny Mac Brown coaches the junior high girls and helps with the varsity girls.

Both squads will be in action Monday and Tuesday of next week.

They travel to Evergreen on Monday to face Sparta Academy and then to Mobile on Tuesday against Mobile Christian.

Fans in the Greenville area will have their first opportunity to see the Eagles take flight

Nov. 26-27 when they host the Fort Dale Thanksgiving Classic. They will compete against Faith, Monroe, Pike Liberal and Dixie Academy.