Central head coach Carolyn Wright has been in this position before, but that doesn’t make the challenge any easier.
Wright has been the Lady Red Devils head coach since 1991 and has led the team to the state semifinals twice before. That, however, only means so much in the preparation process as her team prepares to take on Hoover on Thursday in the Class 7A semifinals.
“The hard part is still there with working with teenagers and trying to keep them focused,” Wright said. “The easy part is the preparation for the coaches. I think the hardest part is getting the team together and making them understand they have to buy into what we think is the best thing for that particular game.”
Thursday’s contest will be yet another tough matchup for the Lady Red Devils. Hoover enters the game with a 25-6 record and are riding a five-game winning streak into the game. The Lady Buccaneers survived an intense showdown with Sparkman in the quarterfinals, winning 46-45.
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Wright complimented the Lady Buccaneers’ tenacity as a whole. She pointed out their team-oriented mentality that has helped them reached this point, saying it was something Central needed in order to have a chance at victory.
Even with the team aspect in mind, there’s no denying how pivotal Tiyah Johnson has been for the Lady Red Devils this season. She delivered repeatedly in Central’s victory over Auburn to clinch the berth to Birmingham, finishing the game with a team-high 17 points. She was then named the Central Regional’s MVP for her body of work this postseason.
It seems more than likely that Johnson will lead the Lady Red Devils’ charge once again come tip-off time.
“Tiyah is just a hard worker,” Wright said. “She’s our captain. She runs the show. She tries to keep them focused and holds them accountable to do the little things. That’s her job, and she does it well.”
Wright and Johnson spoke after the Auburn game about the team’s goal to “get on the bus” to Birmingham, which was an objective the team came up with in the preseason. Wright said the returning players from the 2015-2016 team, which lost to Jeff Davis in the first round, looked at what worked and what failed in preparation for the coming season.
That introspection and drive to their goal inspired several team members to make it happen.
Wright’s keys to the game are far from complex. She said her team needs to be ready to play the full 32 minutes, as one slip-up or hesitation can mean all the difference. Cutting down on turnovers is a must, just as executing on each free-throw attempt Hoover affords them.
As far as what she’ll tell her players before game time, Wright said she already has her message picked out for the big moment.
“Go at it hard,” Wright said. “Represent your community and your parents well. You’ve got to fight hard and give it everything you’ve got.”
At least some things come easier with experience.
Jordan D. Hill: 770-894-9818, @lesports