For three seasons, it’s been the Kahlia Lawrence show at Kendrick High.
She’s broken the school’s season scoring record in each of her three seasons with the team and this year, as a senior, surpassed its all-time scoring record. She is the main reason the Lady Cherokees are playing in Friday’s Class AA state championship game against Wesleyan.
But she isn’t the only reason.
All year, coach Sterling Hicks has stressed that his team’s success comes down to more than just Lawrence, even if her 26.2 points per game is the biggest contribution. He wants the best team, he said, not just the best player.
Lawrence likely will be the best player in Friday’s game, but in order to knock off Wesleyan, winner of six straight state titles, the players following her lead will be just as important.
Senior Deja Cheatham
An ailing Cheatham has nonetheless been an important piece to the puzzle for this season’s Lady Cherokees. Playing with a knee injury, Cheatham has been at about “60 percent,” according to Hicks. But Cheatham at 60 percent is as good as most others at 100.
“She gives us an inside presence,” Hicks said. “She can score the ball inside, and she’s experienced. She’s played in big games.”
Her ability to fight through the injury throughout the playoffs leads Hicks to call her one of the most mentally tough players he’s got.
Lawrence describes Cheatham, who averages just over 14 points per game, as her right-hand man.
“We’re not a big team,” Lawrence said. “She gives us someone down low. And she’s going to give everything she’s got no matter what. She’s going to leave it on the floor.”
Even with the bumps and bruises, she’s still the player to rely on inside.
“I’m still the interior presence,” she said on Wednesday. “I do whatever I can.”
Senior Donivan Dyson
When Cheatham got hurt earlier in the season, she was averaging around 18 points per game. Without her, Hicks needed the team to find points in some other places.
One player he turned to was Dyson.
Dyson averages a modest 5.5 points per game, but it’s likely the team would have lost two games ago without her contributions on offense. With Lawrence on the bench after fouling out in the fourth quarter, Dyson scored 10 of her 12 points to help Kendrick to a 65-62 victory.
“She’s stepped up,” Hicks said. “I challenged her when (Cheatham) got hurt. We needed someone to fill the shoes. They’ve all stepped up.”
Lawrence said Dyson has really started to fit into the team’s chemistry down the stretch and will be a key figure in the game on Friday.
Sophomore Brittany Thompson
Thompson has been called upon to run the point for the Lady Cherokees, and Lawrence said she’s growing into the role. She is third on the team in scoring at 8.7 points per game and first in assists at about three per game.
When Lawrence is on the bench getting a breather, Thompson is the one with the ball in her hands, calling the shots.
“She’s one who wants to play at a high level every year here,” Lawrence said. “She’s growing. I think she’s going to be great. I’m real proud of her.”
Junior Margarnique McKissic
Hicks described McKissic as one of the team’s shooters. While she, too, is battling a number of ailments, Hicks said she won’t let him sit her during games.
“She’s still practicing every day,” he said. “She’s going hard. That’s all she knows to do. She can do a lot for us. She gets steals and can shoot the basketball.”
Averaging eight points per game, Lawrence said McKissic is one who they can rely on in any situation.
“No matter what it is, she’s going to help,” she said. “Coach is always trying to get her to shoot more, because she can.”
Junior Taylor Farley
Hicks called her aggressive. Lawrence called her intense. On defense, she can be the team’s heart and soul.
“She’s the most aggressive player we’ve got,” Lawrence said. “She goes hard day in and day out. She brings that aggressiveness to the defense, which is where we score are points.”
Farley averages 3.7 steals and 8.3 points per game.
“She has the skill to get to the basket, too,” Hicks said. “She gets a lot of her points off of turnovers.”
Those five girls, in addition to Lawrence, are just a portion of who contributes for the Lady Cherokees. Hicks regularly plays 11 or 12 girls each game. Playing at the speed Kendrick does, it’s necessary to preserve the players’ energy throughout the game.
Hicks stressed his point again:
“We can’t be a one-player show,” he said.