Anna Kimball earned her 1,000th point at Niceville High School when the Eagles bested the Choctaw Indians in a 44-40 contest in the Eagles’ Nest.
The 6’2 Senior committed to play at Rollins College last year in a signing ceremony with 12 other classmates who will play college sports but hasn’t had the accompanying case of senioritis kids like me suffered in their last semester of high school.
Instead – she’s been on a tear. She’s averaged 14.4 points per game in the last five, including the 15 points at Choctaw that got her over the 1,000-point mark. “I didn’t think I was actually gonna be able to hit it,” Kimball said of the accomplishment, “It was something that I’ve always wanted to do since I hit high school. I just didn’t think I could actually do it three seasons.”
But along with the memory of her 1,000th point comes the memories made off the court with the team, too.
Coach Meghan Darhower and Kimball sit on the brown couch under a mural of an eagle with a basketball in the girls’ locker room at Niceville High School. Behind them – on a table of some sort stuffed between the back of the couch and the wall are the trophies the team has won together through hard work and determination. They are there – but a visitor like me can tell that’s not the room’s focal point.
The focus is a little black karaoke machine with a space on the bench all its own. Kimball points to it when I ask her about her best memories on the team and smiles: “Everyone’s loving ‘Hotline Bling’ by Drake right now,” she says with a laugh. The small machine and microphone – along with the 1,000th point and a one-point victory over Fort Walton Beach, her former team, in 2023 form her core memories.
On the other side of the couch, Coach Meghan Darhower sits and listens as Anna talks. She’s given some thought to what life will be like on the court for Niceville High School when Kimball moves off to D-II Rollins College in the Fall. They will miss her, but what they’ve been through the last three years was a steeper climb – Lady Eagles basketball is where it is now – within a couple of games of a district championship because they stuck together.
In Coach’s first season, Anna’s Sophomore season, and her first one with the Eagles, the team went 6-18.
“I really thought twice after that season [about whether] I did the right thing,” Coach Darhower said about their first season, “But I’m a little hard-headed and stubborn. So I figured I’m gonna stick it out for a little while and see what happens.”
Those dark times in the beginning set the foundation for the success they’ve experienced this year. “I just feel like the culture has gotten so much better in the last couple of years,” Darhower said, “And a lot of it is a big testament to the seniors we have. They went through the really bad season.”
Sitting at the top of the 6A District 1 with an undefeated regular season district record – Darhower’s been proven right – and so has Hannah on her choice to move schools. “They’re enjoying being around each other. This is probably one of the best teams I’ve had as far as culture and chemistry,” Darhower said.
Coach has a positive energy when she tells me they won’t be able to replace Kimball. “You know, there’s not just a bunch of six, two girls running around,” she says with a grin, “You always pray for a move-in – But we’ll just have to be a little different next year. We’ll have to be a little faster, play quicker, play more in transition… We can run a transition [right now], but we get really good looks when we set up our plays. And we’re moving the ball around and getting people out of position.”
There’s still some season to play before the team can begin to think about next year.
The Eagles’ next game is a district playoff contest against the Crestview Bulldogs on February 6 at 6 PM in Niceville. Niceville defeated the 13-12 Bulldogs twice this season by a combined 116-73. Kimball scored 31 of those points.
But the Bulldogs are desperate for a win. If Crestview loses, they are out of the playoffs altogether.
A cornered, wounded wild animal can put up a serious fight. Add in the fact this is a rivalry game – and anything can happen.
But anything can happen for Niceville, too. They are ranked 22nd in the state by MaxPreps and aim to make their district playoff games a springboard deep into the state tournament later this month.