An hour before Forsyth Central’s girls’ basketball team played Monday in the Wolverine Winter Classic, Abbey Fagan had a tough opponent to catch – head coach Angela Hurt’s daughter.
The rest of the Lady Bulldogs team sat on a bench at Vickery Creek Middle School, watching as Fagan chased the 3-year-old around and around, finally corralling her at mid-court, letting out a cackle that echoed inside the empty gym.
Fagan was laughing too, a stark contrast for the junior power forward from last season when she played sparingly on varsity and harbored thoughts of quitting basketball altogether to focus on soccer.
Instead, she’s averaging 14 points a game for a Central team that enters the second half of the season tied for first place in Region 7-AAAAA, Div. B at 3-0.
"My heart just wasn’t into it [last season], but I think [it has been] more this season," Fagan said. "It’s gotten a lot better."
All along, Fagan knew she wasn’t a basketball player, even if her physical attributes were well-suited for the game. She’s tall with long arms and quick with good body control. Those qualities make her an impact defender in soccer, the sport she’s played as long as she can remember and the one that takes priority for Fagan. She missed a Dec. 6 game against Chattahoochee to play in a tournament with her United Futbol Academy 98 Premier travel soccer team.
Fagan only started playing basketball because one of her best friends convinced her to in the fifth grade. She joined the Atlanta Cagers the next season, a local AAU organization that features most of Forsyth County’s top girls’ talent, but it didn’t catch. She stopped a few years later.
"That was pretty fun," Fagan said. "I wasn’t the best at it though."
Still, Fagan went out for Central basketball as a freshman, if only to help her stay conditioned for soccer. After every season, Fagan told herself she was going to quit and focus on soccer. Every season, her teammates persuaded her to come back. Besides, she told herself, what else would she be doing during the winter season?
This season felt different. Central’s roster was gutted by graduation with the loss of starters Kayla Bennett, Emma Kane and Anna-Nicole Moore and key reserves Jennifer Jacobs, Kirsten Lindstrom and Ellie Webb. They left a void of 769 points, 412 rebounds, 171 assists and 133 steals to replace.
So Fagan knew her role could increase.
"I expected to start because we did lose out whole team from last year," Fagan said. "…I wasn’t expecting to come in and be the No. 1 scorer three games in a row. I was like, oh, I’ll just do my job on the court and help other people score. But it turned out different."
Indeed, Fagan led Central in scoring in its three region games, averaging 16 points during that span. Fagan said the biggest improvement in her game has been her shooting accuracy, but even when it’s off, she finds other ways to contribute. In the Lady Bulldogs’ 54-43 loss to Starr’s Mill on Monday, she managed just eight points but added three rebounds, two assists and two steals.
"I just knew she was going to be either our best player or she was definitely going to be someone to go to, just because one, she’s athletic, so much more athletic than almost anybody," Hurt said. "You can tell that she’s also maturing and becoming mentally stronger."
With Fagan’s emergence, Central has a stronger chance of reaching the state tournament for the first time since 2012. The Lady Bulldogs set that as their goal before the season. Fagan said it was less a goal and more of "just a hope."
"But after seeing how we can play," Fagan said, "if we keep playing the way we have been I think we can make it there."