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Next challenge for South girls: Deal with expectations
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South Forsyths girls basketball team made a surprise run to the Class AAAAAA Final Four this season. With four starters back next season, the Lady War Eagles wont be under the radar anymore. - photo by Brian Paglia

South Forsyth’s girls’ basketball team put a lot of emphasis on the number four this season. Doing so gave the Lady War Eagles perspective during their historic journey, allowing them to focus on the day-to-day grind rather than worry about the big picture.

Four months of training, four quarters in a game, and then the Final Four of the state tournament—where their season ultimately came to an end. Head coach Keith Gravitt credits his wife for devising this arithmetical mindset.

Taking it a step further, South’s ascension becomes even more impressive when viewed in a four-year scope. It was not long ago, during the 2010-11 season, when the Lady War Eagles finished with a 5-22 record. That was followed up with another dismal campaign in which they won just two games in Region 6-AAAAAA.

Just before taking the court at Georgia Tech for the Class AAAAAA Final Four matchup against McEachern, senior Ashley Hannan—the only player left from those two disappointing seasons—was asked if she thought she’d ever be a part of a team like this one.

"Never in a million years," Hannan said.

Clearly, no one could have foreseen South’s remarkable run—not until last winter, when the Lady War Eagles righted the ship and earned a state tournament berth. That season didn’t put them on the map, though. Getting to play at Georgia Tech, under the bright lights of McCamish Pavilion, put the rest of the state on notice.

The Lady War Eagles got to the Final Four with an injection of young talent that was absent in 2010-11 and 2011-12, including Maryland commit Sarah Myers. In just her second season of high school basketball, Myers emerged as one of the premier players in the region, averaging more than 20 points per game.

Then there was Shelby Threlkeld, who transferred to South prior to the start of this school year. She provided an oft-needed spark with timely shooting and stout defense.

Ally Welch, who will be one of five seniors in 2014-15, had some big games, as well, including a 19-point performance in South’s Jan. 21 win over North.

Sophomore K.K. Storms set the tone for South’s offense as the starting point guard and progressed steadily throughout the last few months. Her impact extended beyond the box score, as she proved to be a calming influence on her teammates, even during the most pressure-packed situations.

"They’re winners," said Gravitt. "They’re season has been about winning. A lot of investment goes into this, and we didn’t make it [to the Final Four] by accident. They earned the right to be here."

What made this group special, what made them winners, was not its collective physical talent; instead, it was its mental toughness. After falling in the Region 6-AAAAAA final in heartbreaking fashion to rival North, it would have been easy for South to roll over in the state tournament.

Instead of sulking, the Lady War Eagles used that defeat as motivation. That extra fuel helped them knock off reigning state champion Norcross in the second round, then earn a huge victory in the state tournament Elite 8 over Parkview.

"It was such a great run," Hannan said. "I couldn’t be prouder of these girls."

With Hannan the only player being lost to graduation, the Lady War Eagles will remain mostly in tact next year. That said, returning to contender status is easier said than done.

Gravitt recently spoke to a coach who once had a young team that advanced far in the state tournament when its best players were sophomores. However, that squad fell flat on its face and didn’t even make the state tournament.

Nothing in this sport is guaranteed, and the Lady War Eagles will have to keep that in mind moving forward.

"Our girls understand now what it takes," Gravitt said. "But they don’t know how hard it is to get back here. That’s the challenge we’ll face.

"Because now, everyone knows all about South Forsyth."