Valley Preps

Led by 2 underclassmen, Harris County girls returning to the big stage

David Mitchell

dmitchell@ledger-enquirer.com

ROBIN TRIMARCHI rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.comHarris County's Jessika Carter, rights, blocks a shot by Columbus High's Tatyana Wyatt in prep play Tuesday at Columbus High.  01.12.16
ROBIN TRIMARCHI rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.comHarris County's Jessika Carter, rights, blocks a shot by Columbus High's Tatyana Wyatt in prep play Tuesday at Columbus High. 01.12.16 rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com

The last time the Harris County girls basketball team played a state playoff game, its two biggest stars were in diapers.

That was in 2002, and both sophomore Jessika Carter and freshman Taziha Fanning were holding bottles, not basketballs, still years away from developing into dominating interior presences on the court.

Flash forward 14 years. Carter is a conservative 6-foot-4, bordering on 6-5 depending on the measurement. In her second season of varsity basketball, she is averaging 16.9 points, 14.4 rebounds and four blocks per game. She has already scored 884 total points in fewer than two full seasons. In her first year of varsity ball, Fanning has turned into more than just a compliment for Carter inside. She has averaged 19.2 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per contest.

The result was 18 wins and a playoff berth, their first since that 2002 season. And being the young players they are, coach Steffanie Ramsey said many of the players didn’t think much of it at first.

“Before today, it was just another game,” Ramsey said of Tuesday’s first round matchup against Dutchtown (6:30 p.m. at Dutchtown). “Today, it hit them, though. They don’t pay attention to that stuff, how long it’s been or anything. They just treat it like another game. But I think they’re starting to realize the importance of it.”

Ramsey said she’s seen a shift in the way the program is viewed at the school and beyond. In the past, when people thought of Harris County, they thought of football or baseball, she said.

“Now it puts a little bit of the attention on basketball.”

Ramsey has been at the school for six years. During the first five seasons, the team struggled to losing records every year. There were a few years in which the Lady Tigers could count their victories on one hand.

But last year, something started to shift. Even though the team managed just a 7-17 record and no playoff berth, Carter’s freshman season offered some hope of a brighter future.

She averaged nearly 20 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks per game. She was named the All-Bi-City player of the year after the season and advanced deep into trials for the USA 16-and-under national team and was ranked among ESPN’s top 25 recruits for the Class of 2018 last September.

With the addition of Fanning this year, another tall and physical interior presence, Harris County was able to make a huge leap to 18 victories and a trip to the playoffs.

Carter complimented her freshman teammate’s ability inside the paint. She called her strong and said it’s helped to free her up.

“And if my game’s off, I know she’s there to pick it up,” Carter said.

Fanning said she surprised even herself with how quickly she was able to step in this season.

“I’m just glad to have an impact,” she said. “I kind of surprised myself a little. I thought I’d be nervous or something.”

Instead, she and Carter have formed one of the more imposing interior tandems around.

“It helps a great deal when you have two posts inside who can catch and score, rebound and block,” Ramsey said. “They take care of it inside.”

And the guards — Taylor Keith, JaNyce Dumas and Dashia Crowder, among others — have helped facilitate that success.

“I think it’s big that my guards understand that we are a post-oriented team, and they try to find the bigs to score the easy points,” Ramsey said.

None of this is to say that Harris County has arrived. Ramsey wanted to dispel that notion right away. The team has made huge strides, but still faces an uphill battle against Dutchtown, a team that advanced to the Class 5A semifinals a year ago.

Win or lose on Tuesday, Ramsey just wants to see her team improve, show it can compete on the big stage and leave everything on the floor.

“That’s all I’m asking of them,” she said. “I want them to compete from start to finish. It’s about learning we can play with these teams, that we can compete with anyone.”

STATE PLAYOFFS

Girls

GHSA Class 5A

Mundy’s Mill at Columbus, 6 p.m.

Morrow at Carver, 6 p.m.

Northside at Woodland-Stockbridge, 6 p.m.

Harris County at Dutchtown, 6:30 p.m.

GHSA Class 3A

Hephzibah at Kendrick, 6 p.m.

BOYS

AHSAA Class 6A subregional

Russell County at Homewood, 8 p.m.

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