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Clover Blue Eagles flying high

"Happy together" is a good way to describe the varsity girls basketball team at Clover High School.

But how is the weather? It feels like a cool and sunny spring day after every win, and there have been a lot of those this season.

Coach Sherer Hopkins' girls are 18-4 overall and can run the table in Region 3-AAAA and their league record to 10-0 with a road win at Lancaster Friday night, a game that ends the regular season.

"Special" is a word assistant coach Bailey Jackson used to describe Hopkins' team.

"Most of the girls on the team have been together for several years," he said. "They really have a special thing going."

Jackson knows talent. He led Fort Mill's boys to a Class AAAA state championship in 2007 but left last year and returned home to become Clover High School's NGA administrative assistant and assistant athletic director.

"These same girls were 4-20 on the varsity team two years ago," Hopkins said. "It was a group of eighth-graders, freshmen and sophomores. But the talent was there and we started turning it around last year, with a 12-10 record and third place in the region.

"The learned how to compete. They bought into our system and we could see them improving every game. It was because they did what we wanted them to do and they wanted to get better."

Hopkins said Jackson has been a big help. They grew up together in Clover and have known each other since they were four years old. They played varsity basketball at the same time and graduated in 1991.

Hopkins came back to coaching last year after spending two at home tending to her two young children. And she also has an impressive resume: Hopkins was a standout player at Francis Marion in Florence. During her first run coaching Clover's girls, she took the team to the Class AAAA state championship in 2000 and 2005.

Neither team won, but this year's has a good shot at ending that streak.

There have been some close games. Clover beat Northwestern 55-52 in their second meeting. The Blue Eagles slipped past Gaffney 46-45 in their first meeting, but raced past the Indians 69-35 in their second.

Winning the close ones is the mark of a good team - coaches like to call it finishing - and Clover is perfect in the region because the girls leave all they have on the court.

"We were ahead against Gaffney in the first game and let them come back late. But we held on and pulled it out," Hopkins said.

Clover's top player is 5-foot-10 Bria Huffman, whom Hopkins has played at every position this season. She signed early in November, accepting a scholarship from Appalachian State.

Huffman averages 17.1 points, Gadson Lefft 7.1, and Clover is getting 6.1 per game from Lauren Richardson and Telliya Patton, the team leader in rebounds with 6.

The others understand Huffman is their go-to player, and do not hesitate to get her the ball.

"That's how it is on this team," Huffman said. "The strongest part is chemistry, and that's because we grew up playing together and we are happy to be so close. But we are not satisfied. We want more when the playoffs start next week.

"We knew we could do well and win the region, but we realized it would take motivation and confidence. We have both. And we made each other better at practice; another reason we've had a good season. And none of us want it to end."

The final question: How is the weather in Columbia on March 2? That night, the Class AAAA girls will play for the state championship. Clover hopes to be there for a shot at the crown.