Heritage girls poised for next step: state playoffs

Heritage girls poised for next step: state playoffs

December 20th, 2013 by Lindsey Young in Sports - Preps

BEST OF PREPS TOURNAMENT

Girls' first-round game

Heritage vs. Tyner

Heritage starters: Alex Belk (Sr.), Shelby Mullinax (Sr.), Jada Hubbard (Jr.), Haley Hixon (Jr.), Rachel Thomas (Fr.)

Tyner starters: Jaimesia Parks (So.), Ericia McLemore (Sr.), Brianna Wilkes (Sr.), Porchia Turner (Jr.), Alyshia Smith (So.)

Items of interest: The 9-2 Lady Generals, who won 19 games last season, have four freshmen in their regular rotation, led by forward Thomas, who averages 11 points and seven rebounds. Tyner junior Turner is an athletic three-sport star who leads the Lady Rams in scoring at 15 points per game and rebounding with 10 per game.

RINGGOLD, Ga. - Eddie Bryant admits the first three seasons of leading the Heritage High School girls' basketball program was a test of his patience. Thankfully he had a plan, and even though those first three seasons netted a grand total of five wins, Bryant saw that a solid foundation had been built.

He's in his sixth year now, and Heritage makes its debut in the Best of Preps tournament next Thursday against Tyner.

Heritage won 15 games in year four and followed that with 19 last season, though it ended one game short of making the state playoffs. It's that final step that Bryant and his team plan to take this year.

"We finally have the program where every night we walk onto the floor we feel we have a chance to win," Bryant said. "Our goal this year is to make the state playoffs, but first we want to win our subregion, which would leave us having to win just one game in our tournament to make the state."

Bryant has a strong mix of experience and youth this season, though he admits having four freshmen in his regular rotation is a bit taxing on his nerves at times. Three Lady Generals -- senior Alex Belk, junior Jada Hubbard and freshman Rachel Thomas -- are averaging in double figures in points, while Thomas and the team's other senior, Shelby Mullinax, pull down eight rebounds a game.

Heritage hopes to prove it belongs in the top echelon of area squads in next week's tournament.

"It's a new experience for us and we really believe we can compete with the other teams in the tournament," said point guard Belk, who also averages right at six assists per game. "It will be a good test for us, but I think we're up to it."

Belk, who started the final half of the season as a freshmen during a three-win campaign, says this year's team should be the best in school history for two reasons.

"We have a lot of intensity this year, and our effort all season shows it," she said. "We're playing at a different level this year effort-wise. We also have more depth, which means we trust the girls coming off the bench."

Bryant agrees and adds that a good showing next week could be a nice springboard to a strong showing in Region 7-AAAA.

"What I've seen from this team is much more confidence, something the program obviously didn't have when we started six years ago," he said. "Our depth is a big key because we don't have to push our starters so much. As for the tournament, there are good teams in it and it comes right before our subregion schedule starts. We hope playing in that atmosphere against good teams will prepare us for what lies ahead."

Contact Lindsey Young at lyoung@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6296.