The Lady Eagles (22-12) didn’t have standout forward Reece Estep in the line-up for the most of the 2021-2022 season.
They rallied around each other, however, and made history.
Madison Southern won a program-record 22 games, claimed back-to-back 44th District Tournament titles for the first time and advanced to the semifinals of the 11th Region Tournament for the second-straight year.
The Lady Eagles now find themselves in a very similar situation, again.
Estep — who was granted a fifth-year of eligibility — will once again not be able to play.
“Unfortunately, we were fortunate to go through this last year,” Madison Southern coach Josh Curtis said. “So, a lot of the players who we are going to ask to step up, were already asked to do that last year.”
Even without Estep, the Lady Eagles have a roster full of players who stepped into bigger roles and were part of last season’s success.
Southern has six seniors — including an experienced transfer — two talented freshmen guards and several others who will contribute.
“Depth is our friend this year,” Curtis said. “We have a lot of good, talented players.”
Estep suffered a serious knee injury as a freshman, then played just six games last season before tearing her other knee.
Recently, she re-injured the same knee for the second-straight year.
The senior forward will need a third surgery, but still plans on playing basketball next season at Campbellville University.
“Anyone who knows Reece will tell you she is a great person,” Curtis said. “It’s hard to understand why bad things happen to good people — and she’s a great example of that.”
The loss of Estep certainly hurts, but the Lady Eagles know they’ve just got to move on, once again.
“We don’t need anyone to go out there and be Reece,” Curtis said. “We just need everyone to do what they did last season — and maybe do a little bit more.”
Hadley French had a breakout performance last season, helping the Lady Eagles to their fifth district tournament title in school history.
The point guard jumped into the starting line-up as an eighth-grader and averaged a team-best 11.1 points and 4.2 rebounds a game. She also hit a team-best 62 three-pointers and got to the free throw line 71 times.
Even though she is just a freshman, some publications have the guard ranked as one of the top players in the 11th Region.
“It seems like she should be a junior or a senior, because of her basketball IQ and just how calm she is,” Curtis said of the freshman. “She sees things two plays ahead of time out there. She’s a great leader on the floor.”
Madison Southern graduated two of its top three scorers from last season — Morgan Flannery and Macie Daniels — but still returns lots of offensive threats, in addition to French.
Bella Moberly appeared in all 34 games in 2021-22 and helped fill the void on the interior after Estep’s injury The athletic forward averaged 4.6 points and 4.9 rebounds a game.
“She’s had a great offseason,” Curtis said of Moberly. “She’s really turned into the player we thought she could become.”
Wooten hit 18 three-pointers (fourth-most on the team) last season and was a versatile presence for the Lady Eagles.
She, too, will be called on to do even more — in a variety of roles.
“We are going to ask her to guard the other team’s best guard,” Curtis said of Wooten. “She’s a great defender. She’s a great spot-up shooter. She’s a good ball-handler. She does so many things for us.”
Jada Carter got increased playing time last year after Estep was forced out of the line-up as well.
And she responded in a big way.
The senior forward set a new school single-game record with 24 rebounds and got to the free throw line 100 times.
“She is tough as nails,” Curtis said of Carter. “She is going to make winning play after winning play.”
Natalie Clark has been slowed by injuries seemingly her entire high school career. The senior appeared in just three games last season and is currently dealing with a shoulder issue, which will keep her out of the line-up.
“We are hoping to get her healthy,” Curtis said of Clark.
Megan Correll was a starter on several state tournament teams in Illinois before transferring to Southern. The senior guard/forward could make a big impact, especially without Estep available.
“I think she is someone who fits in with how we play,” Curtis said of Correll.
Senior forward Kirstin Fraley is a valuable leader who can contribute on both ends of the court.
Sophomore Ashlan Estep appeared in all 34 games last season, averaging 3.9 points and 2.7 rebounds, while bringing some extra toughness to the line-up.
“She’s a dog,” Curtis said of Ashlan Estep.
Junior Olivia Wagoner (5 games in 2021-22) will likely see more playing time this season, along with Laci Sandlin, who appeared in 19 games as an eighth-grader.
Southern was considered one of the top challengers to Franklin County for the 11th Region championship — before Estep’s injury.
For the Lady Eagles, though, the expectations are still the same.
“They know they’ve got what it takes to have a good season and accomplish their goals,” Curtis said. “They also know they have a long way to go.”