CAIRO — What a difference a year makes for the Cairo Syrupmaids basketball team.

The senior-laden squad made a memorable postseason run a year ago, advancing to the Class AAAA championship game. This year, the team is mostly young and inexperienced, but still hungry, said coach Melissa McClendon.

“We're going to be young this year, everybody knows that, being that we graduated nine seniors,” she said. “We've got a lot of good kids coming up, some ninth graders. We're not only young because we graduated those nine but COVID hurt us last year; so our sophomores have not played. We've got a lot of learning to do, but we're hungry. We're always going to stand behind our Cairo tradition, ‘Work hard, never quit.’” 

Cairo's nine seniors led the Syrupmaids to an 18-2 record last year. They won their first 14 games and then four playoff games before dropping the championship game to Carver-Columbus 70-54. Not much experience returns for the Syrupmaids this year, however. It is a different coaching experience for McClendon heading into this season.

“We only have one four-year senior coming back. We have one junior, and then everybody else for the most part is new,” McClendon said. “It is new. We still have that 'Maker mindset. We just have to tweak it. We're having to go over a lot more basics, slow it down a little bit and do a lot more teaching.

“I've been there before. I knew what to expect. The kids are willing and committed, so we're going to move forward from there.”

Leading the Syrupmaids this year will be senior Kelia Miller and junior Kendra Speed.

“They balance us out and give us a lot of stability,” McClendon said.

Seniors Christy James and Christina Brown also provide some veteran leadership.

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