Graduation took a significant toll on the Cleburne County girls basketball team. Gone are five players who had been a part of the program for several seasons.

The Tigers return two experienced seniors in post Kaity Zeiders and power forward Toni Epps. Senior Bridget McClain has returned after playing with the junior high team three years ago.

The only junior is Alisa Norton. Norton will be the point guard and got a significant amount of playing time last year in that role.

Sophomores Grace Conkle, Madison Jones and Bailey Norton are first-year varsity players, up from the junior high ranks.

Freshman Shawntavia Boyd, who is the starter at shooting guard, played on the varsity last year as an eighth-grader. Freshman Erykah Ware spent the latter part of last season with the varsity and is the first guard off the bench. Kiara Akles, who will start at forward, and Lauren Brown are also freshmen.

Coach Todd Gable said Wednesday that this year’s team is an athletic group and that should help the youthfulness.

The Tigers opened the season Friday of last week in a one-day, four-team tournament at Faith Christian in Anniston.

“We had some real good (practices) right before the tournament. Everything was working good. Everybody knew what they were supposed to be doing,” Gable said.

The value of those practices showed immediately as Cleburne County defeated

Pleasant Valley 64-48 in first game to reach the championship game Friday evening. The Tigers led 39-27 at halftime but lost Epps to an ankle injury with about three minutes remaining in the second quarter. Zeiders led the scoring with 21 points and had 10 rebounds. Epps had 12 points and five rebounds, all in the first half.

Norton scored 11 points and added four assists, three steals and three rebounds. Boyd and Akles

each had six points. Akles also had 10 rebounds and Boyd recorded three assists and three steals. Ware had five points and four rebounds. Jones finished with two points and three rebounds. Brown had two assists, one steal, one point and one rebound.

“We executed real well against Pleasant Valley. I was real pleased with that,” Gable said. “When we had everybody in there, things were rolling along good. We were running our offense real well. They couldn’t stop what we were doing.”

In the championship game, White Plains defeated Cleburne County 45-27. Akles had a double-double, 13 points and 14 rebounds, to lead the Tigers. She also made four steals.

Norton had six points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals. Boyd and Zeiders each scored four points. Zeiders also had nine rebounds and two steals while Boyd had two assists.

After trailing 23-13 at halftime, the Tigers got as close as five points during the third quarter but could never take the lead. Epps’ absence was significant.

“She makes a difference on both sides, offense and defense,” Gable said. “She’s a leader out there because this is her third year playing varsity. The girls respond to her.”

Alexandria comes to Cleburne County Friday. Gable said practices this week have focused on creating the on-court chemistry the Tigers need with Epps on the sideline for a few games.

“I’m anxious to see Friday how they do after having a few days of practice under their belts because we had to rotate some people around,” said Gable.

Ware will start at the shooting guard with Boyd moving to small forward and Akles to power forward.

The Tigers have a very busy week next week. They travel to Weaver Monday then host Harlason County (Ga.) Tuesday. Clay Central comes to Heflin Thursday and Cleburne County hosts White Plains Saturday.