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Basketball: Memory of lost region title game still fresh and motivating for North Forsyth girls
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North Forsyth sophomore Caroline Martin, from left, and seniors Cassie Markle and Amber Jones are three of the Raiders' five returning starters for the 2017-18 season. - photo by Lily McGregor Photography

The game from last season that's been eating at the North Forsyth girls basketball isn't the one that ended the Raiders' season.

That was a 62-33 defeat in a second-round playoff game against McEachern, the eventual state champion, and North knows that was a particularly tricky matchup against an exceptional team. No, the one that still hurts, that the Raiders have been using as motivation since it happened, was the 59-58 defeat to Lambert in the region championship game.

"I think about it all the time," senior forward Cassie Markle said. "We talk about it all the time."

That's the main goal for the Raiders right now: Get back to that game, and win this time. With a strong mix of experienced contributors and talented newcomers, any other result would be surprising for North this year.

The Raiders' strengths start with their experience. All five of North's starters are back, and Markle, sophomore point guard Caroline Martin and senior shooting guard Amber Jones all earned all-county honors last season.

Most of North's losses to graduation were post players, like Maddie Palmer and Madison Moye, but one of the team's key newcomers is set to fill the holes left there. Freshman Kate Perryman made a significant impact on the Raiders' volleyball team this year, starting at middle blocker and helping the team to a No. 2 playoff seed, and she could have a similar effect on the basketball court.

"Kate Perryman is the most athletically gifted kid we've had here in my seven years," North head coach Eric Herrick said. "She just has some things you can't coach and can't teach. She's 6-1-and-a-half, she can jump out of the gym, runs like a deer, (has) got a lot of great attributes."

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North Forsyth sophomore Caroline Martin, from left, and seniors Cassie Markle and Amber Jones are three of the Raiders' five returning starters for the 2017-18 season. - photo by Lily McGregor Photography

The Raiders are also expecting a new arrival to open up play around the perimeter. Jones was a reliable three-point shooter for North last year, but the Raiders didn't have many options apart from her, and teams would sometimes lock down on Jones in an attempt to make North look elsewhere for points. With the arrival of senior Catherine Shope, who averaged 22 points per game while being homeschooled and playing for The King's Academy in GICAA competition, the Raiders have another gunner to complement Jones.

North's experience is certainly an asset, and Herrick hopes that the new arrivals can create a mixture that makes the returning pieces even better.

"We don't want our upperclassmen getting comfortable," Herrick said. "We want them to be pushed every day, and nobody's going to push them as well as these young kids. These young kids want to come in and play immediately, so it's great to be able to create that competition in practice every day."

The competition with opposing teams will be stiff as well. Herrick said North's schedule is as tough as any other Georgia team's, with a trip to the Nike Tournament of Champions in Arizona over Christmas highlighting the nonconference slate.

The goal of such an aggressive schedule is to get the Raiders as sharp as possible for the region tournament and, they hope, a deeper run in the state tourney. Markle was reminded of last season's pain when she watched the volleyball team lose at home to Lambert in the area title game after that Raiders squad had won all five area games, including a victory over the Longhorns.

"I felt for them," Markle said.

Those programs aren't directly comparable, though: For the volleyball program, this past season represented an ascent to a place alongside county powers like Lambert and South Forsyth, where the Raiders had never really been. Herrick's team, though, has long been one of those powers, winning at least 20 games in five of his six seasons with the school.

These Raiders aren't trying to tread new territory: They just want to get back where they've been.