There are few things you can count on in high school sports, but the Kendrick girls basketball team making a push in the postseason is one of them.
The Lady Cherokees won a state title two years ago and advanced to the Class 3A quarterfinals last year. They’re back in the round of eight this year (3 p.m. Friday vs. Beach at Augusta University) and, despite having a team that coach Sterling Hicks admitted isn’t quite as good as a couple he’s had in the past, no one is surprised they’ve made it this far.
“We’ve put too much work in (to be surprised),” he said. “We feel like we can win every time we step on the court.”
Kendrick’s confidence comes from years of success running the same system. Many players have come through the ranks of the program, some more talented than others, but the identity of the team has been the same ever since Hicks took over.
There’s the ferocious full-court defense. What looks like chaos to the casual observer is actually a specific set of motions that require communication, chemistry and precise rotation to create turnovers and baskets in transition, where Kendrick gets the majority of its points.
“We want to make it into a track meet where there is a lot of running,” Hicks said. “Defense causes you to pick your pace up. That’s our plan.”
There’s the team-first mentality. Immensely talented players have come through Kendrick’s program, but no one was above the system. They all had to get their hands dirty, do the intense conditioning before, during and after the season. And at the end of a game when the team needs a big shot, Hicks said it can come from anywhere on the court.
“I wish,” he said with a laugh when asked if there was a player or two he looked for in the big moments. “I don’t know where it’s going to come from. I just know it’s going to come from somebody.”
Brittany Thompson, Jabreia Burston and Raven Baker have been three of the key players. They are averaging 18, 12.6 and 12 points per game, respectively. But then there’s also senior Destiny Murph and junior Kiara Price, among others.
There’s pride in the program, too. Baker said that even though this team isn’t the same as those of year’s past, the discipline and the hard work is the same as it’s always been.
“There’s a sense of pride that we have to show that Kendrick isn’t just the past,” she said. “It’s also the future.”
And, as Baker mentioned, more than anything else, there’s the hard work. Perhaps no team runs as many miles or lifts as many pounds throughout the entirety of the season. Hicks forces his players through the grueling workouts so that in a tight fourth quarter in the playoffs, they’re the ones who can still take the up-tempo approach, while the other teams fade.
Asked if anyone works as hard as Kendrick does, Baker smiled.
“I would like to think not,” she said.
So, when the Lady Cherokees take the court against defending state runner-up Beach on Friday, they believe the opponent won’t be too challenging for them. All the aspects that have built the program over the years have created just one opponent who can bring them down.
“We are the only people that can beat us,” Baker said. “We can only beat ourselves.”
“We feel like if we play the way we’re capable of playing, we’ll be fine regardless of who we play,” Hicks said. “At the end of the day, I just want my program to be in the hunt. They put in a lot of work, and they take pride in that.”
Kendrick vs. Beach
What: Class 3A quarterfinals
When: 3 p.m. Friday, Feb. 26
Where: Augusta University