By REID TUCKER
The Walton Middle School Lady Warriors began their 2013 season with a surprising, and much welcome, new addition: a national championship-winning coach.
That coach is Mary “Roonie” Scovel, the storied former head coach of Gulf Coast State College’s Lady Commodores. She led Gulf Coast to numerous conference, regional and state championships, and National Junior College Athletic Association National Championships in 2003 and 2008, establishing a record of 458-59 in her 16 years as head of the program before stepping down as coach after the 2011-2012 season. Scovel, who began her career at Paxton High School in the mid-‘80s and won a state championship at Laurel Hill in the ‘90s, said she was ready to move back to the Walton County area.
“Being a college coach is a 24-hour, year-round job,” Scovel said. “I just reached a point in my career where I wanted to travel less and not have the constant pressure. I also saw this as an opportunity to get back to the area where I started my coaching career. I feel like [Walton Middle] and I are a good fit for each other.”
Despite the promise a coach of her caliber brings to the program, the new boss has her work cut out for her, as the Lady Warriors fell 51-15 to the always impressive squad from Marianna Middle School in their season opener on Thursday, Sept. 5.
The game against Marianna started off more or less even until the Lady Bulldogs exploded in last few minute of the first quarter, shooting 7-for-10 to Walton’s 3-10. Walton’s Haleigh Graham scored a pair of twos and Jazmine Vo added a layup with :25 seconds to go, but Marianna carried a 15-6 lead into the second period. The Lady Warriors fell silent for almost the entirety of Q2 while Marianna’s entire bench scored a 2-pointer apiece, and though Vo tacked on another layup with 10 seconds to go in the half, the Lady Bulldogs were in a dominant position at 25-9.
Walton fared little better after the intermission, with Ellie Johnson scoring the sole goal for the Warriors in only six attempts at the basket in the period. Marianna, on the other hand, hit 8-of-10 shots, with leading scorer Majic McNealy earning eight points alone. Ananell Ammons scored Walton’s only field goal, a 3-pointer that drew a huge applause from the home crowd, with 28 seconds left in the game. Graham went 1-for-2 at the stripe, while Marianna collectively went 5-for-6 from the floor.
However, perhaps nobody in the Panhandle is better suited to help the Lady Warriors’ program rebound from the tough loss than is Scovel. She took the job at Walton Middle in late July and held tryouts in August – not much time to put in preseason work – but Scovel said it’s just a matter of time before the Lady Warriors see a big turnaround.
“The kids have been great,” Scovel said. “We just need some time to develop the program. We’ve been in a rush since the start of school and once we get settled we’ll see improvement. The girls have a fantastic attitude and they like to work hard, so I’m excited to see what the future brings.”