The Hardaway girls and Northside boys basketball teams find themselves in similar positions going into their respective Class AAAAA state playoffs.
Both teams are experienced, starting four seniors, and in good position to take the next step at the state level.
Both understand, however, that a good regular season doesn’t mean much once their games tip off this week.
“The season really starts now,” Lady Hawks coach Kendall Mills said.
His Hardaway team (17-9) is in new territory, having won its first region title and top seed since arrived at the school. When it plays Whitewater at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19 in the first round, Hardaway will be in its home whites, a very comfortable place.
“That was very important for our girls,” Mills said. “To be honest, we just play better in our white uniforms. They just play a lot more relaxed.”
The Lady Hawks used a combination of experience and cohesiveness to make their run in the region tournament. Four seniors start on the team and present a very balanced offensive attack.
Shaunice Bennett (13 points per game), Lakeiya McElroy (8 points), Jamilia Burgos (11 points) and Alexcia McNeal (11 points) lead the charge for the Lady Hawks.
More than the balance, though, is the cohesiveness of the team that has helped it make such an improvement this season after missing out on the state playoffs for two years.
“When you have a team, you really have to form some type of friendship or bond,” Mills said. “That’s where the trust comes in. If they don’t like or trust each other, I don’t think they’ll play hard for each other.”
Mills said he was confident that if his girls continued to play with that cohesiveness, they’d be fine.
Northside enters with a similar mentality and equally high expectations. After a 20-4 regular season capped with a region title, the pressure to excel is as high as ever.
Coach Kenneth Lawrence said they welcome that opportunity.
“I talked to the guys about not beating themselves,” he said. “We talked about that in practice. The thing is, with most of them being seniors, they can see the task ahead of them. I think they’re ready to go. I see the seriousness on their faces.”
In the playoffs, each possession counts just a little bit more, Lawrence said, and no matter what records are, you’ll get everybody’s best.”
“You just have to be the team that executes better,” he said.
That’s something the Patriots have done well all season, particularly late in the year. That’s when Lawrence wants his team playing its best.
“We’ve always wanted to play our best at the end of the year,” Lawrence said. “A lot of times with younger players, they start looking at records. We spend more time looking at region play and playing our best ball at the end of the year.
“We’ve discussed that a lot, and I think the guys have bought into that.”
In the first round on Wed., Feb. 20, Northside hosts Northgate, which will do everything it can to make each possession count.
“They’re not overly athletic, but they can run it and they’re smart,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence is confident in the way his team is preparing, though.
“We practiced (Monday) and we’ll do a little more (on Tuesday),” Lawrence said. “It’s going really well. They seem to be excited, and they’re practicing hard.”
Elsewhere in the Bi-City area, 15 girls and boys teams will play first-round games on Tuesday and Wednesday. Brookstone School is awaiting the release of the Class A public and private seeding to see if and when its girls and boys teams will play postseason games.
That announcement will be made on Tuesday, with appeals scheduled for Wednesday.
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571. Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.