That program defended its way to 22 victories and an area championship this past season, making its second consecutive appearance in the Northeast Regional.
Not surprisingly, Calhoun County coaches voted Lively as the county’s Class 3A coach of the year.
No argument from Saks senior Addesha Collins, who averaged five steals a game and was voted 3A player of the year.
“She taught me a lot,” Collins said about Lively. “She taught me mainly that defense comes first.”
Saks finished with 446 steals on the year, an average of 13.9 a game. Senior Destinee Briskey led the way with 130, and Collins had 115.
The Wildcats generated much of their offense off runouts from steals and missed shots by opponents.
“They had that energy and that ambition to be the best defensive team,” Lively said. “We’re going to be the best defensive team in the state. That’s what they work for.”
And that’s what the Wildcats hear from their coach, who practiced what she preaches as a player at Weaver.
“That was always something I loved to do,” she said.
“I liked being aggressive on the defensive end.”
Weaver rode defense all the way to the state semifinals in 2001, and then defense became even more of a necessity during her playing days at Gadsden State.
“We were so small, and we weren’t talented,” Lively said. “We kind of all signed at the last minute because it was a new program, and the coach took the job at the last minute. We were OK, but that’s what we lived on, too, was defense.”
Lively came to Saks as a believer in defense, and she found players receptive to the message. It helped that players like Collins and Briskey had the quickness to make it happen.
Once their offensive games developed, they were able to turn that defense into offense.
“The offense always happens, and the offense will fall,” Lively said. “If you can change a team that might be a good offensive team, to change their kind of way that they have to play offense, it might slow them down and give us a chance to win.”
It’s been good enough to get Saks to at least the sub-regional in each of Lively’s four years on the job. They made the regional finals a year ago and regional semifinals this year.
She’ll lose Briskey and Collins but return a core group led by Taylor West with up-and-comer Jordan Briskey, Destinee’s little sister. They’ll come ready to play defense.
“I’ll have seven seniors this year,” Lively said, “and I think the seven seniors will buy into it and learn from it.”
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. Reach him at 256-235-3576. On Twitter: jmedley_star.