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THE GRIND: South Forsyth's Jonassen has no choice but to take a lead role with Lady War Eagles
One of just four guards on the varsity roster, junior expects to endure longer minutes this season
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A member of the varsity team since her freshman year, Mari Jonassen has tasted the state playoffs. Now she hopes her tight-knit team of eight players can go farther than ever. - photo by Paul Dybas

Not every basketball team is built like the South Forsyth girls team, so not every basketball team prepares like the Lady War Eagles, either.

On Mondays after school, Mari Jonassen and her teammates find a spot on or around campus to lounge in their sweats, relax, and read. This season they're collectively reading Jon Gordon's The Energy Bus, a motivational book that points to rules on how to fuel a team environment.

South is going to need all the fuel it can get this season, but it's not counting by gallon. Rather, head coach Keith Gravitt and company are looking to simply maximize mileage.

This season the team is just eight players: Sara Idris, KK Storms, Zoe Maisel, Caroline Diem, Emily Dreslinski, Sarah Myers, Olivia Poff and Jonassen. They have four post players and four guards. Jonassen, now a junior, is guaranteed a lot of minutes, just like each of her teammates, as the season heads on.

It sounds like a daunting, exhausting task to battle through a basketball season with such a small roster, but it doesn't seem like a single South player cares. The practices are exhaustive but up-beat, complicated but positive, and not a single player can let focus run astray.

With each play in practice, each player is making sure to hold her teammate to her left, or her right, or the one she's guarding accountable. With so few players exists a greater spotlight on each girl on the roster, and while the instruction is full of positive reinforcement, it's a constant stream of enthused shouting and measured consequence.

“We do a lot of suicides in practice,” Jonassen said. “Preseason conditioning was 32 suicides a day, or three miles sometimes outside on the track, and basically at the end of every practice we'll run for missed free throws or not hustling or something.”

“It's different than past years,” Jonassen said with a grin. “We definitely have less girls, but we still want to go far in the tournament.”

Quite a precedent has been set. The Lady War Eagles have gone to the state tournament in the past two seasons under Gravitt, both times falling to McEachern (62-27 in 2014 in the final four, 56-47 in the sweet 16 last year).

In those seasons Jonassen was a true freshman in a varsity role—first off the bench in 2014, and a greater part of the plan last year. This season, as a junior, she's preparing to become an impact player and evolve into a point guard role when her backcourt mate, KK Storms, graduates after this year.

Storms and Maryland signee Sarah Myers have set the foundation for the entire team, and Jonassen, wanting to become a complete player, says her experience with both senior leaders has been invaluable. Jonassen has grown close to Myers and Storms through club competition in the high school offseason, where both Myers' and Storms' fathers are coaches.

“Those two have taught me more about basketball than a lot of people throughout my years,” Jonassen said. “Sarah is a very committed player, same with KK. They always find teaching moments in practice. KK helps me with the point guard skills that I'll have to pick up when she's gone.”

Last season Jonassen played in 28 games, scoring 5.7 points per game and averaging just over an assist and steal per contest. It's early in her junior campaign, but she's been putting in the extra work to make sure she maximizes her performance as an upperclassmen.

“I stay after a lot of times to shoot around, maybe even run to stay in shape,” Jonassen said. “Eating, my Dad makes a good dinner every night, which helps. There's no soda allowed in the house.”