Kendrick High girls basketball coach Sterling Hicks wasnt too worried one way or the other which team the Lady Cherokees would face in Fridays Class AA state championship game.
It didnt matter that the two teams battling for the other spot in the game last Saturday both presented distinct challenges: Laney defeated Kendrick in the final four last season, while Wesleyan is a six-time defending state champ.
Wesleyan came out on top in that game and will face Kendrick at 3 p.m. Friday at the Macon Centreplex, but Hicks isnt treating this opponent any different than the others.
Were just going to play the way weve been playing, he said. It was good enough to get us this far, and I know its good enough to win. Its just whether we make our shots or not.
Its the same demeanor hes presented all season, despite challenges and traps that could have tripped up his team at any moment. Key players like Deja Cheatham and Margarnique McKissic have battled injuries all season. An epic quarterfinal against Greater Atlanta Christian went into overtime with Kendricks best player on the bench with five fouls.
And yet, his team is here, one win away from a perfect season and the second state championship in school history.
His players reflect his calm approach. Lawrence, the senior leader on this squad, echoed his words.
I understand its the finals, but we want to play like we have been playing, she said. Its been good enough so far.
That isnt to say the Lady Cherokees wont have their hands full on Friday. They understand that, against a team that has finished the season on top each of the past six years, they will face poise and experience unlike any other game thus far.
Hicks watched Wesleyan defeat Laney in the semifinals last Saturday, trailing most of the game only to take over late as it has done for the better part of a decade.
They were calm, he said. Real poised. When they got down, they didnt get rattled. It was two good teams going at it, and Wesleyan found a way to win like they always do.
The Lady Wolves are younger than in past years, led by only two seniors on the roster. Coach Jan Azar admitted as much after her teams semifinals victory.
Were a young team, she said. Kendrick has more experienced players. They have a girl (Lawrence) who is very fast and very good with the ball. Well have to play better against them than we did today.
Theres experience, and then theres experience. The kind of experience Wesleyan has, Kendrick still lacks. None of its players have played in a state championship, much less won multiple titles.
Hicks knows theres only one way to gain that experience.
We just have to go out there and go hard, he said. You have to. The biggest thing for me is making sure we play to the end. The rest will take care of itself.
Wesleyan will feature a moderate size advantage, though Kendricks aggressive press could force it into a pace it isnt comfortable with.
Lawrence will lead the way once again for the Lady Cherokees as she has all season, averaging 26.2 points per game. Hicks said its going to take a full performance from the entire roster to come out on top, though.
To be the best, youve got to beat the best, he said. Theres no other way around it. Right now theyre the best.
Kendrick is playing in its first state championship since it won it all in 2008. It also played and lost the 2005 final. It is trying to win its second championship in school history.
CLASS AA STATE CHAMPIONSHIP: KENDRICK GIRLS VS. WESLEYAN
When: 3 p.m. Friday
Where: Macon Centreplex (Macon, Ga.)
Records: Kendrick, 28-0. Wesleyan, 27-3
How they got here: Kendrick, def. Model 71-34 in first round, def. Rabun County 90-34 in second round, def. GAC 65-62 in OT in quarterfinals, def. Putnam County 75-50 in semifinals; Wesleyan, def. Union County 82-26 in first round, def. Calhoun 84-47 in second round, def. Jefferson 64-33 in quarterfinals, def. Laney 68-64 in semifinals.
You need to know: Wesleyan has won six consecutive state championship games. Kendrick is going for its first state title since 2008 and second overall. Kendricks Kahlia Lawrence is Kendricks all-time leading scorer.