October 22, 2020

Lady Braves riding momentum

Article courtesy of Jordan Hofeditz / The Times-Georgian

(Franklin) — This summer is about riding a wave of success and finding ways to replace key pieces for the Heard County High School girls’ basketball team as it comes off a Region 5-AA championship and Class AA state quarterfinal run.

Even though the Lady Braves graduated just three players — Jordan Watson, Madison Whitehead and Kemiaya Brewer — who all had plenty of influence on the court, they are also working this summer without Kimberly Harris and hope to have her for the season, but are preparing for the possibility that they might not.

A new-look region, replacing three or four key players and dealing with new expectations aren’t something the Lady Braves are worried about, though. Recently, Heard County hosted Bill Formula of Swish Atlanta to teach the Pro Shot Shooting System. That even included getting some of the younger members of the Heard County program into the gym and working.

“We got our middle school kids in here, trying to get them some good fundamentals. Shooting is kind of a lost art,” Akins said. “I’m missing some of my [varsity players], so we’ve got a lot of younger kids in here, which is what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to build it from the bottom up.”

Lady Brave head coach Helen Akins (Photo: Melanie Boyd/Times-Georgian)

Lady Brave head coach Helen Akins (Photo: Melanie Boyd/Times-Georgian)

Akins is set to begin her third year leading the Lady Braves and has a pair of state playoff appearances under her belt, highlighted by last year’s success getting back to the quarterfinals for just the second time in almost three decades.

Not just being there, but being there and having success helps make the summers a little easier as the players understand the work is building toward something bigger.

“The first two [summers] you want to get them in the system to learn the offense, learn your expectations. Now we can kind of switch gears and focus tight on those fundamentals like dribbling and shooting,” Akins said. “All of those things, footwork, are important. The summer is the time you have to do that. If you wait until October to work on shooting and footwork, you’re too late. We wanted, this summer, to get a head start and focus on the fundamentals.”

That is how last week ended up leading into the team camp and the hope was to build upon the lessons learned and use that time to work on developing better habits.

“That’s what we always tell them, ‘If you go to a camp or you go to a clinic you can get [a little] better. If you take it and you use it, that’s when you can get [a lot] better.’ That’s what we’re trying to do this summer, really focus on our fundamentals,” Akins said. “Everybody pretty much knows the system now, the older ones are teaching the younger ones, that’s just kind of how it goes. Hopefully, we’re going to build something special.”

Returning players like starting point guard Sage Kelley, post player Hannah Sanders and possibly Harris provides three potential returning starters in some key spots for the Lady Braves. That experience and veteran presence is going to help build upon last year’s success.

“We’re bringing a good core group back. Obviously, losing players like Jordan and Maddie … Losing them, we’re going to take a hit. But we’re trying to get some folks to fill those spots,” Akins said. “We have Hannah Sanders, a girl who’s over 6-foot tall that’s going to be an inside presence. We’re not sure if Kimberly is coming back … Hopefully, it’s going to all work out. But we’re going to keep working at it.”

Then Heard County will turn to some other players who will have bigger roles this time around. Alyssa Cosper was one of the top options off the bench last season and there are some others who were primarily junior-varsity players that got some varsity time who will have to play more minutes and add more production this year.

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