Jones, LaGrange High’s girls’ basketball coach, was optimistic in part because of the players she had coming back, but her good feelings also stemmed from what she felt was a special incoming freshman class.
The Lady Grangers were coming off a 10-17 season, and the program was in need of a spark.
Jones believed the freshman would provide that spark.
She was right.
In 2009-2010, with a gifted group of freshmen making a huge impact, the Lady Grangers went 21-10 and made it all the way to the Class AAA final four.
“They came in as freshmen and helped a program that was struggling,” Jones said. “They played varsity ball with an attitude and a work ethic that really matched up well with some of our older players on the team at the time.”
Those players include post player KaBrenna Smith and guards Brittany Tatum and Steara Mitchell, each of whom has been playing a lot since their freshmen seasons.
Other members of that vaunted freshman class include Breanna Grant, Tajah Banks,and Danielle Dowell.
Last year as sophomores, those players helped the Lady Grangers go 21-3 and win a region championship, although the season ended in disappointing fashion with a first-round state loss.
Still, it was a magnificent season, giving the team a 42-13 record over the past two seasons.
When the freshmen arrived on campus before the 2009 season, they already had a winning pedigree.
They won a championship while teammates at Gardner-Newman, so they knew how to win.
It’s that early success that has helped the team come together.
“It made it a little easier to make the transition from middle school to high school,” Tatum said. “We had to adjust to the speed of the game a little bit, but we came in wanting to compete.”
Smith, a dominant post player who is also a terrific volleyball player, said the group being together for so long before entering the high-school ranks made the transition a little easier.
“It definitely helped us a lot,” Smith said. “Being together for so long we know each others tendencies, so it helped us when we came over to the high school game.”
What impressed Jones was the way the freshmen blended right in with the veterans.
“I knew they were a special group, and a big group coming up,” Jones said. “They were bringing some great things with them. they worked really well with the girls last year. They have been on the varsity level for three years, so they have done a lot for the program to take it to the next level.”
Jones added that seeing the players grow and get better over the past two years has been a special thing, but it was seeing them emerge as team leaders that has been the most important thing to the squad.
That’s particularly important this season after the loss of Terryuana Godwin, who graduated this spring after enjoying a spectacular high-school career.
“It’s also nice to see them come together as leaders,” Jones said. “They have stepped up this season after we lost a few key seniors and have really taken the lead for the team this season.”
None of the players are satisfied with what they’ve done.
They’ve won a lot of games, they’ve been to the final four, and they’ve won a region title.
The big carrot is still out there, though, and that’s a state championship.
“We still have some things that we want to accomplish,” Mitchell said. “We still want to go deep into the playoffs and eventually get a state title. That is our main goal right now.”
To accomplish their goals, the group knows the road map to success.
“We just need to keep working hard in practice,” Smith said. “If we keep putting in the hard work and give it everything we have in the game then we can be successful.”