As South Forsyth ran through Gwinnett County in February en route to the first Final Four in school history, Lady War Eagles point guard KK Storms would glance up at the bleachers and see one fewer familiar face: her mother’s.
Storms’ mother, Patrice, was in the throes of a battle with cancer, one she would succumb to in late April.
"It was very difficult not having my No. 1 fan in the stands," Storms said. "It took a lot to stay strong, but the further we went, I was doing it all for her. My goal was to make sure I was doing good for mom."
For a cerebral player like Storms, whose father, Rodney, coaches Forsyth County standouts Sarah Myers, Ally Welch, Jenna Staiti, Caroline Bowns and his daughter with the Atlanta Cagers AAU team, basketball was an escape—at practice, on car rides home, at the dinner table.
A strong backbone of teammates—Storms has played with Myers since the two were 10 years old and with Welch since seventh grade—helped Storms stay afloat.
"I can’t even put it in to words," Storms said. "They were the best help and best support system I could have ever asked for. They still help me out to this day."
South entered last year’s Region 6-AAAAAA tournament with three region losses, including a 37-point defeat at the hands of North Forsyth on Dec. 10. So, when the Lady War Eagles and Lady Raiders met again in the region championship game, a contest North won by four, South knew things were starting to click.
"We became a totally different team within the span of a few games and it was incredible to watch and be a part of," Storms said. "It was a mentality of knowing we could win those games, knowing how far we’d come from the mistakes we had made against those teams earlier in the year. We thought we could be the best team in Forsyth County."
The Lady War Eagles’ momentum carried over in to the state playoffs. South took down South Gwinnett in the first round, only to see a second-round opponent they were all-too-familiar with: defending state champions Norcross, who had dispatched the Lady War Eagles in the first round, 80-32, one year prior.
It looked to be more of the same for Keith Gravitt’s team, who fell behind 8-0 after three minutes and trailed by nine in the fourth quarter—but Storms and her teammates had grown up.
"Old memories hit me as soon as we walked back in the gym," Storms said. "But I knew … we had improved tremendously and I knew we could take them."
South stormed back (sorry) to tie the game in the final minute and dominated overtime to advance to its first-ever Elite Eight, where the Lady War Eagles won yet again.
This year, Storms again gets to play against some of her closest friends in West’s Staiti and North’s Bowns. For 32 minutes, at least, no love is lost. South will be nothing if not battle-tested come Region 6 tournament time.
Every major piece on the court, save for center Ashley Hannan, returns for South this season.
Every major piece, save for one in the stands.
"My mom’s not here physically but she’s watching over me every game," Storms said. "I want to keep her happy."