For most freshmen, starting from day one on varsity—in one of the state’s toughest girls basketball regions, no less—would’ve been overwhelming.
Girls are stronger, faster, more skilled, and Lambert’s Kara Kidwell knew that would be the case.
Kidwell, who grew up watching her dad, Bruce, coach her older sisters and the North Georgia Celtics AAU program, wasn’t like most freshmen.
"When I was younger, it was always basketball in the house," she said. "I think it helped take some of the nerves off that came with playing against older girls."
It wasn’t just older players Kidwell, a 5-foot-9 guard, had to contend with. It was Sarah Myers, Ally Welch and a loaded South Forsyth team; Caroline Bowns, Lochlain Corliss, Avery Scarbrough at North Forsyth, and Maddie O’Connor and Jenna Staiti at West Forsyth.
Kidwell wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
"You don’t want to play against girls who aren’t as good as you," she said. "It’ll make you look good but won’t help at all with your game. Playing against girls like that taught me what it takes to compete against them."
The Lady Longhorns finished 6-19 last season under Tony Watkins, who departed for Grayson High School. Jaime Fisher, a former head coach at South Gwinnett and an assistant under Watkins in his only season at Lambert, takes over a team that returns all five starters in Kidwell, Leah Cote, Ashley Johnson, Corrie Baker and Caroline Wilson.
Fisher, an Honorable Mention All-ACC selection during her playing career at Georgia Tech, has been imploring her young team to give the same effort in practice as they would in a game. If the Lady Longhorns can limit the effectiveness of opponents’ top scorers and control tempo, they’ll be more competitive, Kidwell said.
In other words, Lambert is still learning how to win, and that’s to be expected. Wilson is the only senior among that group of returnees.
"I learned [last year] that it’s not easy," Kidwell said. "It may not come tomorrow or the next day but you have to keep pushing."
South showed the Lady Longhorns there’s still plenty of work to be done: the Lady War Eagles jumped out to a 14-point halftime lead and doubled their lead after three quarters in a 62-37 win on Nov. 21. North visited Lambert on Tuesday night; that game finished too late for this edition.
There’s plenty of familiarity among girls in Forsyth County from the AAU circuit. Kidwell, Cote, South’s Emily Dreslinski and West’s Abby Quincy know one another from the Celtics.
"It’s really competitive in the county," Kidwell said. "Off the court, we’re best friends. As soon as you step on the court, you try to not think of them as your friends, but it’s still fun to get to play against them."
Kidwell said she spent the offseason working on her shot to make it more consistent, though she admits scoring isn’t the biggest part of her game.
"I may not be the most skilled out of anybody," she said. "I’m always trying to work the hardest, be a team player, always looking for the open pass. Personal gain isn’t as important to me as the team doing well."
To that end, the Lady Longhorns are hoping to enjoy a few more celebratory locker rooms in 2014 and into 2015.
"I definitely want to win more than we did last year," she said. "With the girls we have this year and how competitive it’s gotten [among ourselves], I think we can do that."