Close quarters helicopter landing
If North Forsyth girls basketball coach Eric Herrick was worried the Lady Raiders would forget the team’s goals next season, he made sure they would sweat in them.
During strength and conditioning workouts, the Lady Raiders wear T-shirts that Herrick gave them. They are gray and sleeveless with bold print on the front that reads, ‘My goal is to win a region championship.’
"It’s motivation," North rising junior Caroline Bowns said. "Just knowing to push yourself, but in the end, if you work hard now, in the end you’ll be rewarded."
The Lady Raiders want the reward to be the Region 6-AAAAAA championship that’s eluded them the past two seasons and a post-season trip beyond the second round. They would be historic rewards. North has never won a region championship in girls basketball, and no North basketball team – girls or boys – has ever advanced past the second round of the state tournament, according to the Georgia High School Basketball Project.
And so the Lady Raiders’ approach this summer has been twofold – to play the toughest competition possible, while perfecting their fundamentals.
North has already played Mill Creek, a program that’s reached the quarterfinals or better five of the past eight seasons, and Buford, which played in four straight Class 2A finals from 2009-12 and won three, twice each at camps. They’re opponents who might have intimidated the Lady Raiders on name alone in the past but not after consecutive 20-win seasons.
"We want to see that kind of competitive," Herrick said. "Before, I think we would’ve been apprehensive and shied away from the physicality of teams like that. But they seek challenges now. They’re ready to play.
"They want to see where they’re at. They want to compete against the best. They know when you get to the state tournament you’re going to see teams like that. That’s what we need to see."
But the Lady Raiders still remember the ultimate reminder of what it takes to make history. To some, the defining play of their season was a buzzer-beating put-back by Cherokee’s Kiana Howell to force overtime in the second round of the Class 6A tournament.
Had Howell been properly boxed out, North would have grabbed the rebound and its first appearance in the quarterfinals ever. Instead, two overtimes later, the Lady Raiders lost 65-53.
The reminder came again last week at a camp at Columbus State. North had trouble consistently boxing out opponents, so Herrick devoted extra time for boxing out drills at practice Monday. A week before, he made the team come to Raiders Arena before a scrimmage. He put up shots while the Lady Raiders had to find their defensive assignment and hold the box out until they secured the rebound.
"We’re doing it now so it won’t have to be [done] during the season," North rising senior Avery Scarbrough said. "We can work on other things during the season instead of fundamentals."
The summer has also been a chance for North to work in rising senior Kendall Bennett and rising sophomore Morgan Grindle to replace departed starters Kim Blake and Carlin Light. Herrick said the Lady Raiders also need rising senior Brittany Bagwell and rising junior Annabelle Howell to help provide more depth on the bench with rising junior Okwunne Ogbogu.
But the Lady Raiders return their core of Scarbrough, Bowns and rising junior Lochlain Corliss. The three combined for 35.4 points, 13.7 rebounds and 6.1 steals a game last season.
They feel North has historic potential, and they are reminded of it every time they lift a weight.
"We expect to win," Scarbrough said. "We have the same goals, but this season … we’re going to get bigger and better, work out with weights, and so now we’re going to reach those goals."