Not three or even four, but eight seniors.
Out of the 13 players that make up the South Walton Seahawks girls basketball program, eight are seniors and the largest group Kevin Craig has had in his almost four decades of coaching basketball.
“Every year we’ve had a senior laden team, we’ve had a pretty good year … knock on wood,” Craig said sitting in his office. “They are great kids. This is probably the most committed group I’ve ever had and they get along very well.”
Seniors on the team include Gracie Ricci, Allee Coble, Ciera Rowland, Gabi Barksdale, Allison Richards, Shannon Cole, Devany Beard and Georgia Johnson.
“This is a group that has been to back-to-back final fours,” Craig said.
Last year, the Seahawks finished their season 21-8 with a heartbreaking loss, 58-48, to Wildwood in the 1A state title game.
“Every kid in the program (seniors) has played in those games,” he said.
However, the big question mark this year is moving from 1A to 5A.
Nevertheless, Craig is happy about the move.
“I’m excited about it. We’ve always played a tough schedule. Now we are the hunters instead of the hunted,” he said.
Craig sees Walton High in DeFuniak Springs as one of the teams to beat.
The Walton Braves finished 16-3 last season and won their district.
“They have almost everybody back. They are going to be really good,” Craig said.
He also mentioned West Florida High and Pensacola Catholic as teams to beat. Plus to make it out of the region he said they will mostly like have to get past Florida High out of Tallahassee, who went to the state championships last year.
“But you know I’m excited,” he added.
And one of the things he’s most excited about is the effort the team puts out.
“It’s a really good group of kids, they’re fun, they get along and they play hard, which is the biggest thing to me – they play hard. And it means something to them,” he said.
The biggest strength the team has in their favor right now is their experience, Craig said, noting he’s had some of the girls since seventh grade.
However, playing without center Savannah Slade this year, the Seahawks will be moving a few players around.
Ellie Wiggins, a junior, will be playing at point guard to free Ricci up to score.
“(Wiggins) can handle the ball and I need Gracie Ricci to step up as a scorer,” he said. “We’ve also moved Allee Coble back inside where she’s more comfortable. Allee is a very good inside player and can finish. She’s very smart.”
Junior Aidan Collins will also play inside as well.
Senior Devany Beard has been a three-year starter for the Seahawks and Craig is looking for her to do well this season.
“She’s had a really good preseason. Her confidence, her work ethic and her attitude … she’s enjoying basketball and it’s good to see,” he said.
Others who will see plenty of playing time are Allison Richards, Gracie Lowry, Shannon Cole, Ciera Rowland, Georgia Johnson, Gracie Neville and Gabi Barksdale.
“We have all juniors and seniors. After this year we have a big hole,” Craig said.
But for now, the upcoming season looks promising.
“If everybody stays healthy, I think we’ll be alright. I think we’re going to be a more diverse team … spread it around,” Craig said.
And with his big number of seniors there is an urgency to win.
“Seniors have a sense of urgency … you don’t have a beyond this, and I think they are all locked into that,” he said.
The Seahawks will play in a Tip-Off Tournament at Fort Walton Beach on Nov. 14 and 16. They will open up against Pensacola Washington.