High School Sports

Balance key for Northside's success heading inbto second round of state playoffs

David Mitchell/dmitchell@ledger-enquirer.com 
 Caitlyn Jakes sets up the offense during practice on Thursday at Northside High.
David Mitchell/dmitchell@ledger-enquirer.com Caitlyn Jakes sets up the offense during practice on Thursday at Northside High.

The Northside girls basketball team is a family.

There are the older sisters -- seniors Tselem Gahagan, Caitlyn Jakes, Daijah Cole, Jasmine and Jessica Herndon. The younger siblings -- freshmen Maikayla Allen and Gabi Apiag, and sophomores Abbi Blackburn and Johniqua Woods. And there's the middle child, junior Jamiya Austin, who bridges the gap between the two.

Each has a very specific skill set. The Herndon twins have strong size and ability near the basket, Gahagan can run an offense with ease, Jakes plays with ferocious tenacity.

The result is a team that has compiled a 20-7 record and a berth in the second round of the Class 5A tournament on Friday against Flowery Branch.

"Nobody is jealous of each other," coach Barbara Lowe said on Thursday. "They want each other to work hard and to succeed. Everyone works with one another. They want this team to succeed."

And it has. Despite finishing third in the region behind Columbus and Carver, Northside was able to knock off Woodland-Stockbridge 53-51 in the first round of the tournament. Lowe said a big part of the success has been the versatility and balance of her team, as well as the leadership from seniors down to freshmen.

The five seniors are the unquestioned leaders of the squad. Jasmine and Jessica Herndon have been focal points of the team on both sides of the ball for the past three years. Jakes and Gahagan have been consistent players, as well.

This year, when there were injuries to a couple of those players, others like Cole, Apiag and Blackburn, among others, stepped to the fore

front with ease.

"Everyone has a job," Lowe said. "If everyone does that job, that's all I can ask. I told them at the beginning of the year to find out what your job is and work as hard as you can at it to get it done."

That fact is evident in the numbers. Five players averaged between eight and 10.2 points per game during the regular season, two players average at least two steals per game, and two players averaged more than eight rebounds.

Of course, all of this will get a little tougher in the second round of the playoffs, when the Lady Patriots travel to Flowery Branch. Flowery Branch sports a 28-1 record, losing just once to Gainesville, and has both size and speed.

But that's nothing new to Northside. Lowe noted how the Lady Patriots have faced the full spectrum of styles of play, from Columbus' elite half-court offense to Carver's high-intensity full-court press.

"We have a tough region," she said. "I believe Carver and Columbus have given us a lot to work from. We've seen the whole spectrum."

Now, they have to prepare for that kind of game all at once.

Jasmine Herndon said they've put a lot of preparation into protecting the ball and being able to run their offense.

"We have to take care of the ball and watch our turnovers," she said. "We have to keep our heads. We're bigger inside and when it gets physical, a lot of times the fouls will go against us. So we have to keep our heads and keep our players on the court."

Gahagan said it's going to take a fast start from Northside.

"We need to get momentum early," she said. "We have to play our best. We can't let them get control of the game. We know at this point, anything can happen. Anyone can be beat."

And, Lowe said, it will be all about the little things.

"It's always the little things," she said. "We have to be mentally and physically prepared. None of them are easy anymore. Everyone's good. So the team that does the little things will be the one that wins."