Tigers set records, surpass milestones in historic season

Published 1:54 pm Thursday, February 23, 2023

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By Carey Reeder | Staff Writer

Coming into the 2022-2023 girl’s high school basketball season there was a lot of uncertainty within the Chilton County High School program. A new coaching staff was coming in, and after a sub-.500 record (14-16) the season before, the opportunity for improvement was there, but the optimism did not quite match it.

However, eight months after starting their season, this year’s CCHS girl’s basketball team set the school record with 23 wins in a single season.

With seniors looking to end their high school career on a positive note, an upstart sophomore yearning for another scorer in the lineup, role players ready to step into whatever job they were assigned and two other players that helped bring it all together — the Tigers got to work in June 2022.

Varsity girls head coach Rickey Pulliam and varsity assistant and junior varsity head coach Kelvin Sterling arrived in Clanton in June and started work right away.

“We challenged them on a lot of things this summer … We made a consensus that everyone had to get better. 6A basketball is tough, especially in the central region.” Sterling said. “They really committed themselves to being the best in the weight room, the best at fundamentals with our position coaches. We really had a strenuous summer, but we saw it translate into August and September.”

Sterling said the seniors, including Tyonna Booker, took charge of the team quickly after June. Booker was sidelined to start the season, but the coaching staff explained her role when she came back was to be that glue-girl that keeps the team together. A role Rickey Pulliam said Booker played perfectly.

“I made sure we all stayed on the straight and narrow, and to be the best we could possibly be on the court, I believe it starts off the court,” Booker said. “I am going to miss it so much, and out of all four years of being here this season touched the heart strings, and I feel like I have gotten so much better.”

Booker was another forward for CCHS to help fill in minutes when senior Trinity Pulliam was off the court or in foul trouble. Booker averaged three points and nearly eight rebounds per game once she returned from injury.

“It was something really special to be a part of … Coming back it was really fun, and the anticipation of me coming back made it even better when I did get back,” Booker said. “It was a really special, fun time for us to be together, we grew closer together and we made history. It was amazing to be a part of.”

Booker being the glue kept the team upbeat, and said the bus rides to away games this season was the most fun part before Rickey Pulliam would tell the girls to “Lock in,” when they arrived at the arena.

“That will always be something that is burned into my head when it is time to lock in and get serious,” Booker said. “Those bus rides will not top anything else.”

The season started off slow for the Tigers going 1-4 before heading to the Alabama Christian Academy Thanksgiving Tournament in Montgomery on Nov. 21-22. The Tigers won the tournament and went 7-2 before their Christmas tournament in Gulf Shores on Dec. 19-20.

“It just shows how hard the girls worked, and from where we came from and how we were playing at the beginning of the year, it shows how good the coaches are and how much the girls bought in,” Rickey Pulliam said.

CCHS lost in the tournament final in Gulf Shores and their next game after, but would not suffer another defeat the rest of the regular season. The Tigers took the Chilton County Basketball Tournament on Jan. 6-7, and ended the regular season on an 11-game winning streak including going 4-0 in AHSAA Class 6A Area 5 play.

Trinity Pulliam was a massive part of the turnaround midseason with her presence in the paint for the Tigers.

“At the beginning of the year, I gave them a lot,” Trinity Pulliam said. “When I came here I wanted to win … Looking back at last season they were not used to winning, so when I came here I wanted to build that courage that we can win here.”

The senior locked up some milestones along the way as well. Trinity surpassed 1,500 points and 2,000 rebounds in her high school career on Jan. 13. She also broke the AHSAA single-season block record of 267 rejections on Jan. 27.

Rickey Pulliam, Trinity’s father, and Sterling have coached her since she was in third grade.

“For her to buy in, and come in and play the way she did was great,” Rickey Pulliam said. “It is always emotional when you have your kids out there … To see the success she had this year at CCHS, I am just glad I was a coach the moment it happened and to share those moments with her has been a blessing.”

The Tigers goal of winning 18 games in the 2022-2023 season was surpassed during the 11-game winning streak.

“I am proud that we got further than we expected to. If we would have played together longer (than one season), we would have been even better,” Trinity Pulliam said. “Every school I went to I tried to win 20 games. It is bittersweet that it is over, but hopefully next year they can stick to it since we set a standard and they can keep growing.”

Sterling said his most memorable moment of the season was Trinity Pulliam breaking the block record.

“I know how hard she works, and it really meant something to her,” Sterling said. “When she came here, we spent a lot of time talking about what type of leader she had to be, and it would not be easy.”

Trinity Pulliam said hanging out in the locker room, making TikToks and enjoying the camaraderie with the team was among her favorite memories from the season. She averaged a triple-double during the season with 14 points, 17 rebounds and 10 blocks per game.

The upstart sophomore Iasia Anderson was a walking triple-double as well, including some quadruple-doubles during the season as well. However, her best performance came in the Class 6A Area 5 championship game on Feb. 9 against Calera.

The Tigers trailed a majority of the game, and with Trinity Pulliam in foul trouble, it was up to Anderson to erase the eight-point deficit that loomed over CCHS heading into the fourth quarter.

Anderson responded by recording one of those quadruple-doubles with 23 points, 16 rebounds, 11 steals and 10 assists.

“She was able to come in and take that game over,” Rickey Pulliam, whose favorite memory of the season was the area final, said. “That was a big moment for her getting her first area championship.”

Anderson also surpassed the 1,500-point mark on Jan. 27 and also surpassed 850 rebounds and 650 steals this season.

“We just always did us,” Anderson said. “Until the coaches came in and said ‘Hey, lock in,’”

Outside of the big scorers in Trinity Pulliam and Anderson, the Tigers had several other role players who stepped up throughout the season.

“It was a great group of girls with a great work ethic this year,” Sterling said.

One of those, freshman Ivyonna Varner, had arguably the best performance by a CCHS player the entire season on Jan. 19 at Benjamin Russell High School.

Varner posted a career-high 30 points on 11-for-16 shooting including knocking down seven 3-pointers on 10 attempts from long range. Varner was not sure she wanted to play basketball, but the more she played the more she enjoyed it. Her shooting and dribbling ability both improved drastically throughout the season, and it showed in her performances on the court.

Varner averaged seven points per game last season.

“I liked how we all played as a team this year. We did really well playing as a team this year,” Varner said. “It means a lot to me because I am just a freshman, and I had never gotten the chance to do that.”

“She has all the tools to be one of, if not the greatest, to ever play here,” varsity assistant coach Walter Postell said.

Varner’s game was Postell’s fondest memory of the season, and the veteran coach enjoyed his most successful one in his time at CCHS.

“It was fun, and very exciting,” Postell said. “For me being here (for a while), and seeing how hard we fought to get to where we are now … To have Trinity come in and join forces with Iasia and the other players we have here, it really made a tremendous jump for the program.”

Both Anderson and Varner worked with guard coach Roman Fletcher, who Rickey Pulliam said worked wonders with the guards.

“He did an outstanding job working with our guards to put them all playing at a great level,” Rickey Pulliam said. “He does a lot behind the scenes … Those girls really respect him and they played for him.”

Senior Destiny Peterson was a player Postell also thought ended her high school career on a positive note.

“Destiny has come a long way,” Postell said. “To see her transition this season was really exciting.”

Sophomore Ishunti Brown, who played her first season of basketball last year, is a player Sterling thought stepped up as well.

“She is going to be a big piece for next year, and her growth this season will be something I will always remember,” Sterling said.

While Trinity Pulliam will now move on, she hopes her leadership will resonate within the program, and she cherishes her time spent at CCHS.

“I know next year they can do it again,” Trinity Pulliam said. “I am happy and grateful I got to play with them, and that we were able to set some records.”

Anderson will be tasked with leading that new standard that has been set.

“We just need to keep working, and more work after that,” Anderson said.

The Tigers’ 23-10 final record in the 2022-2023 will leave a lasting impact on not only the CCHS girl’s basketball program, but for girl’s basketball in Clanton for years to come.

“I am just blessed to be a part of it, and what these girls did for the city of Clanton, and the people in this community coming out to support them, it really meant a lot for the program,” Rickey Pulliam said. “This season is going to set this program up for a lot of success down the line.”