The Alton Redbirds girls’ basketball team has shown marked improvement over the last year.
The Redbirds entered this week with a 9-15 record, an improvement over the 3 wins Alton compiled last season.
“We’ve really been focusing on defense this year,” AHS coach Tammy Talbert said. “The kids are getting in the gym and working hard. They’re also playing as a team.”
Alton suffered a 45-40 loss to Collinsville on Jan. 30 at Collinsville in its last game. The Redbirds defeated Collinsville 64-60 in overtime on Dec. 14 during their first meeting.
“We beat them on a buzzer beater in the first meeting and won by four points,” Talbert said following the loss to the Kahoks. “We did get off to a slow start tonight and Collinsville has lots of quality weapons on the perimeter. They’re very athletic as well.”
The Birds were tied with the Kahoks twice late, at 34-34 and 38-38 in the fourth quarter, during the loss, but couldn’t quite get over the hump. It marked the fourth loss for Alton this season by 5 points or less, which is a good start for Talbert’s return to the Redbirds as head coach.
Talbert is no stranger to the coaching profession, nor to the Riverbend. She served Marquette Catholic as head girls basketball coach from 1992-2000 and then was Alton’s head coach from 2002-08. Talbert was also an assistant at Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey from 2009-10 before becoming the head coach at Roxana from 2012-16. She returned to Alton as an assistant coach last year before becoming the head coach again this season.
“It’s my life,” Talbert said of coaching. “It’s what I know. I love the late nights on the school bus with the girls.”
Talbert said she plans on coaching until she retires.
Alton has just two seniors this season — Diarra Smith and Denise Swain, but they’ve been impactful, especially Smith.
“Diarra has shown a lot of good leadership this year,” Talbert said. “We’re really going to miss her next year.”
Alton also has some quality underclassmen who will provide leadership in future seasons. Sophomore Rayn Tally finished the Collinsville game on Jan. 30 with 15 points, leading all Redbird scorers.
“She’s had some good games,” Talbert said of Tally. “She had a good game tonight.”
When she entered the game against Collinsville, Tally knew she was in for a fight.
“We beat them on a buzzer beater last time,” Tally said. “I knew from what we saw in the last game that we would have to work very hard.”
The sophomore played some varsity last year as a freshman and got experience with Talbert as the assistant coach.
“She’s a lot of fun,” Tally said of playing for Talbert. “She lets us incorporate some of our own things into the plays.”
Junior Chr’Shonna Hickman is averaging 7.0 points per game for the Redbirds. She suffered a concussion in a Jan. 9 contest against O’Fallon and returned against Collinsville. Talbert describes her as a player who “does a good job.”
“She’s been my coach a long time,” Hickman said of Talbert. “I think she always gets us to do our best.”
Hickman was glad to return to the court after injury.
“It’s great; I got a rush from being back,” she said. “I like being back and playing.”
The Redbirds had games with Belleville West and Edwardsville this week and are now preparing for the postseason. AHS is cast in the Class 4A Belleville East Regional. The Birds are the No. 8 seed and battle No. 9 West at 6 p.m. Tuesday to open the playoffs at East.
A win draws another matchup with powerhouse EHS — the No. 1-ranked team in 4A — but that would be OK. That would mean Alton would have its first postseason victory since Jan. 19, 2014.
“A definition of success would be getting better every game,” Talbert said. “We want every player to improve. Sometimes we really do look like a good team and other times we don’t, but we really want to improve.”
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