After the Forsyth Central girls basketball team lost to Peachtree Ridge 50-38 on Dec. 22, head coach Angela Hurt saw a team that was, in her words, "defeated," "disappointed," and "upset."
So Hurt and her coaching staff offered the Bulldogs a reminder: Don't forget the context.
"We really just had to kind of say, 'Hey, think about what you've done already,'" Hurt said.
At that point in the season, the Bulldogs had a winning record and had already easily bested their performance in 2016-17, when the team went 1-24. Central still has a ways to go to compete with the best teams in the county, currently sitting at 9-10 and 1-3 in Region 5-7A, but the Bulldogs' huge improvement this season is undeniable.
Hurt, now in her fifth season with the Bulldogs, wasn't unfamiliar with having a team struggle mightily, which had happened during her years starting up the program at Alpharetta. Hurt had decent success with the Bulldogs in her first three years at Central, but heading into 2016-17, she had a particularly young team that had lost Caroline Hearn, who was expected to be a strong senior presence at point guard, and was playing its first season in the state's largest class.
Turnovers were an issue for Central, as wing Sophie Kurtz and forward Morgan Day often had to step into the unnatural position of being one of the team's main ballhandlers. The Bulldogs' only win was a 31-30 victory over Milton on Jan. 13.
Hurt dealt with the lack of wins by changing the parameters for success. She emphasized tasks like limiting turnovers, making free throws, and getting more players scoring. As bad as the team's record got, she didn't feel like they were ever close to giving up.
"I thought about it, but knew it wasn't the right thing to do and I knew it wasn't me," Kurtz said. "I'm not the type of person to just give it all away and give it up because it got too hard. I wanted to push through it."
Most of that team would be coming back, and help would be coming for the Bulldogs in the next set of newcomers. Carson Cloud, who went to North Forsyth Middle School but has had two siblings go to Central, has become the Bulldogs' true point guard, letting players like Kurtz and Day move back to their natural positions. Elizabeth Pruitt has been a capable post as a freshman, and Ansley Carver, who went to North as a freshman, has shown strong scoring ability, draining eight three-pointers in the Bulldogs' 65-25 win against Milton on Jan. 12.
Sophomore forward Morgan Day has been Central's leading scorer, averaging 8.6 points per game, and she has had multiple double-digit games, including a 20-point effort against Roswell. Day was one player Hurt pushed particularly hard last year, given the potential she saw in the then-freshman.
"She probably thinks that I even hated her last year because I was on her so much," Hurt said. "Where this year, it's not like that at all."
The Bulldogs have been a balanced scoring team, though, with three players averaging scoring totals between Day's 8.6 points per game and Tesa Ajorbjor's 5.9. They appear to be in a decent position to make the state playoffs: Central beat Milton convincingly, and while the Bulldogs lost to West Forsyth on a last-second shot on Jan. 9, Hurt said that loss was "not who we are."
This year has been more successful and more fun for the Bulldogs, and the future outlook is positive as well, with just two seniors and one junior on the roster. It's making the older players, like Kurtz, wish it wouldn't be over so soon.
"I really am going to miss this team after this year," Kurtz said. "I wish I could continue with it forever."