While most of the schools in the county play each other at some point in the season, or at least scout non-opponents, Anniston has become an odd man out, and the county tournament, which starts tomorrow and runs through next Saturday, typically provides the Bulldogs’ first chance to play nearly any county school.
But there are exceptions.
Jacksonville scheduled the Bulldogs this season and Piedmont scheduled Anniston last season. Past that, the county tournament is the only way Anniston has seen the other schools.
Needless to say, the lack of county interest has created a slight frustration for Anniston.
“I like to play county teams based off of building rivalries and doing well financially by bringing a big fanbase in,” Anniston girls coach Eddie Bullock said. “But the only teams to play us recently are Piedmont and Jacksonville, but, of course, we cross over with Jacksonville and Alexandria in the sub-regional game. Other than that, no one will play us and I really don’t know why.”
One possible reason teams prefer to not play Anniston is because the Bulldogs are so successful on the court.
Looking at the Calhoun County tournament alone, the Anniston boys have won it 18 times and played in the championship another 11 times since 1952 — both being more than any other school. The girls have won the tournament 13 times dating back to 1979 and have played for the championship another six times, which also ranks first of any school.
“We’re hoping to fair well this year,” Anniston boys coach Schuessler Ware said. “You’re always hoping to do well locally and in that tournament, but the hardest part is being able to stay focused. We’re having some problems right now as far as keeping kids on track. We may not have everything in place and we’re missing a few players, but if some of the other fellows would come through then we’ll be fine. At this point in the season you need everybody on the tab.”
Even with the boys (12-5) facing adversity, the team has shined. Anniston’s schedule is loaded with teams from Class 6A and 5A, and earlier in the season the boys team defeated Class 5A Parker, which was No. 1 at the time.
“We tried to schedule Wenonah, too, but it didn’t work out,” Ware said. “I want to play them for the experience. That’s what the county schools don’t understand.
“I guess that’s another case of people being worried about their record. It’s not like I have some 7-footers up here. I have the same kids as anyone else has. A record doesn’t mean anything if you aren’t prepared for the postseason. The thing is you want to get in the fire because it definitely doesn’t look good winning all those games if you can’t advance.”
Forward Qua Frazier said the competitive schedule has helped the team gain confidence, so much that he’s looking more forward to possibly getting the Bulldogs to the Final 48 in Birmingham more than the county tournament.
“I don’t really think any team around here can beat us,” Frazier said. “We’re going to take it to every team we play in county since a lot of people think we aren’t as good as we are. We’re just focused and ready to play anybody.”
While Frazier said the second-seeded boys don’t think about last season’s second-round loss to Weaver much, girls star Quanetria Bolton said the loss to Jacksonville in last year’s championship has put a chip on the top-seeded Bulldogs’ shoulders.
The chip comes along with Class 4A sixth-ranked Anniston (13-5) having already defeated Jacksonville 58-39 earlier this year, which Bolton said was “the best part of the season thus far.”
“I feel like we have something to prove because everyone has their own opinion since most fans haven’t seen us,” she added. “We’re treating this as a regional game since we don’t know much about any teams. Since we haven’t seen anyone except Jacksonville, I feel like the tournament will be pretty great.”
The Calhoun County tournaments begin Saturday with the Oxford boys and White Plains playing at 10:30 a.m. The Anniston boys play in the first round on Tuesday at 7 p.m. against Wellborn. The girls received a bye for the first round and play the winner of Jacksonville Christian and Ohatchee at 4 p.m. on Wednesday. All games are played at Jacksonville State’s Pete Mathews Coliseum.
Brandon Miller covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575 or follow him on Twitter @bmiller_star