Photo: Pictured is new Sardis High School girls basketball coach Matt Lofthus with wife Jenna and son Isaac. (Courtesy of Sand Mountain Reporter)
By Shannon J. Allen/Sand Mountain Reporter
Matt Lofthus has packed plenty of coaching assignments into his nine years on the Sardis High School faculty.
“I’ve coached football, girls basketball and boys basketball, softball and did a year of junior high baseball. No volleyball, no tennis, no track or cross country, but everything else.”
Lofthus will tip off his 10th year on the Sardis faculty by coaching the varsity girls basketball team. He’s moving up from his role as junior varsity girls coach to succeed Josh Wallace, who resigned as varsity girls coach and assistant principal earlier this su-mmer to become principal of the Etowah County Refocus Center.
“We had some good options on campus here and at the middle school,” Lofthus said. “Ultimately, I think it just came down to maybe a little bit of that familiarity and working with them through basketball and also working with them through softball, because we have so many that play both.”
Lofthus had been coaching the Lions junior varsity softball team but resigned that position.
“Working so well with Josh, I’m very appreciative of all he was able to do while he was here, helping the girls out with new practice jerseys, new uniforms, new balls and doing so well with the tournaments we hosted,” Lofthus said. “He and I worked really well together, and I think that’s kind of what made that transition pretty easy since we’ve got it hopefully on the rise. That was a big thing that was talked about – continuity. Keep it going, keep it moving. It helps to have stability.
“Josh was here five years and I’ve been with him the majority of his five years — one year I spent with [varsity boys coach] Van [Owens] – and we’ve got Coach [Heath] Cullom at the middle school, and he’s working on multiple years in a row. I’m very happy to have Van Owens on the boys side. We have been able to work very well together, and I look forward to both programs benefiting from the other. Dylan Bolding will be helping with our junior high, and it’s always good to have former players come back home.”
The Sardis varsity girls are coming off one of the best seasons in program history. The Lady Lions posted a 14-11 record in 2018-19 and finished second in the Class 5A, Area 13 Tournament to earn their first subregional playoff appearance since the AHSAA adopted the format in 1994.
“Our varsity roster isn’t 100 percent set, but we know Jade Bonds, Whitney Feemster, Lexi Henderson, Hailey Hill, Emily-Kate Jones, Molly Morris and Mallory Wills are the strong senior leaders,” Lofthus said. “We also have juniors Kim Powell, Lily Underwood and Harlee Vincent and sophomore Lily Towns.”
Sardis lost three players to graduation in Kaitlyn Morris, Madison Langley and Kaylee Harraid. That trio was responsible for 37 percent of the rebounds and 40 percent of the scoring last season.
“We’re really going to miss their experience, their scoring, their rebounding and their defense,” Lofthus said. “Bonds and Jones have the ability to pick up some of the scoring slack. With more consistency and the bench able to step up to keep them fresh, these two could have a huge impact for us. Hill has been a great leader for us, a hard worker and eager to learn. Her shot is becoming a weapon for us.
“Henderson looks for a bigger role this year. Defense has been her forte. [Molly] Morris, Feemster and Wills look to benefit from their improvements and increased opportunities with Madison and Kaitlyn graduating. Molly finds ways to get points and get to the free-throw line. Wills should build off her strong area tournament. She gets down the floor well, rebounds well and is quicker than most post players.”
Wills scored a game-high 20 points in Sardis’ 68-59 triumph over Douglas in the Class 5A, Area 13 Tournament semifinals, the victory that clinched the Lions’ subregional berth.
“Feemster could be key for us as a quicker, athletic post player,” Lofthus said. “Many teams have tried to move to four guards, and with her quickness, she can defend on the perimeter but still provide a solid presence in the high post on offense. The seniors have big shoes to fill as far as production that graduated, but from a leadership standpoint they have been as good as you could ask.”
Vincent is the team’s most experienced junior, having already earned two varsity letters.
“Vincent learns something new every day and could easily be our next lockdown defender,” Lofthus said. “She gives us flexibility, as she could be a small ball [number] four [position] while allowing us to really pick up our pace. Underwood came back after a year off and this summer showed how valuable she can be. She scores in transition, through second-chance points, and has improved when teams don’t double [team] her. Powell should provide great shooting off the bench, and it won’t shock her teammates for her to reach double digits multiple times this season.”
Powell and Towns moved up from the Sardis junior varsity, which won the Eto-wah County Tournament championship in 2018-19.
“Towns will provide another option as a defender and ballhandler, and she will wreak havoc in our full-court presses,” Lofthus said.
The Lady Lions are focusing on improving their free-throw and 3-point shooting. The team shot 50 percent from the free-throw line in 2018-19 and made only 17 percent of its 3-pointers in area games.
“We lost 44 points in eight area games just because we didn’t make enough free throws,” Lofthus said. “We only shot 17 percent in area games. We lost another 45 points just because we couldn’t match that. So in eight area games, you’re minus-100 just from the free-throw and 3-point lines. We’ve got to shoot it better, because we can’t get left behind.”
Lofthus expressed gratitude to Josh Wallace, Sardis High Principal Wendy Gibbs, the SHS faculty, his wife Jenna and his fa-mily for their support and contributions to his coaching career.