CALHOUN, Ga. -- High expectations can be both a blessing and a curse, especially when a team experiences real success for the first time.
That's what Jerry Pruett is dealing with at Calhoun, where his Lady Yellow Jackets are coming off a 26-4 Region 7-AA basketball season that ended in the Georgia quarterfinals. With nearly every player back, the team is the prohibitive favorite to repeat, something that has Pruett concerned.
"This is our first time trying to defend a region championship," said Pruett, in his 10th season at Calhoun. "We've been close several times, but we always seemed to not make it. It was a matter of getting over the hump and we finally did. We can't get complacent, though. Are we as hungry as we were last year? That's what I worry about the most."
If you listen to 6-foot junior post Taylor Palmer, Pruett need not worry.
"We have everybody back, we're stronger and we're practicing a lot harder," said Palmer, an All-North Georgia first-team selection as a sophomore after averaging 15 points and 11 rebounds. "If anything, we're more committed to the team than ever. I expect us to go even further this season."
If they do, Palmer will have a big hand in it. The Lady Jackets use her dominating presence in the paint to allow an array of guards to press teams relentlessly. Offensively, nearly every set goes through her, allowing strong shooters such as Callie Pruett, Carly Curtis, Bree Walraven and Danielle Phillips to get wide-open looks.
"Taylor is one of those rare kids who never quits," Coach Pruett said. "Everything we do revolves around her, and she doesn't back down from that responsibility."
A repeat region title won't be easy, with returning state playoff teams in Model, Pepperell and River Ridge as well as 19-win teams Sonoraville and Armuchee returning strong squads. And even if Calhoun manages a repeat, advancing further in a loaded Class AA field will be difficult.
"We've been eliminated two years in a row by Greater Atlanta Christian, and if we want to be able to play with them and teams like Buford, we have to take another step forward," Pruett said. "If the drive is there, we can get another shot at those kinds of teams."