Athens Academy girls basketball coach Brian Olson is keeping things in perspective.
The COVID-19 pandemic ruined spring sports in Georgia and, at times, forced stoppages during the fall season. Though there was doubt at times that the basketball season would begin after the Georgia High School Association set the schedule in the summer, teams across the state began playing a few weeks ago.
And last week, the Athens Academy squad joined them.
“The fact that we're in a gym playing right now is a gift,” Olson said after his team finished competing in last Monday and Tuesday’s Andy Landers Invitation at North Oconee High School. “We have a really great group of young ladies. I couldn't be more pleased with our growth as a team, so I'm really excited about every day with them.”
The Lady Spartans took a 40-35 loss in the season opener against Oconee County. Jaila Salley-Barnett dropped 20 of those points.
Salley-Barnett had 19 points the following day in a 53-31 win over Clarke Central.
Most notably, though, the other Lady Spartans found the net more often. India Sheats had 11 points while Meredith Reynolds had 7 to round out the leading scorers.
Olson said his team failed to establish an identity against Oconee. As they prepped for Clarke Central, the Lady Spartans keyed in on finding themselves.
What they found was a defensive spark. The team opened the game with a big lead, taking a 17-4 edge into the second quarter, and never looked back.
Olson said the strong defense fueled the team’s offensive success.
“I think that when you have a team (where) you want to play hard for the girl sitting next to you, that's going to allow you to make mistakes,” Olson said. “The more comfortable they get, they also know that's going to lead to more freedom on offense for them. I think they are starting to understand that if they play hard together defensively, that's going to open that up and give them more freedom.”
Athens Academy played again this past Monday and beat Westminster Christian 60-40. Madeline Wicker led the scoring effort with 14 points, followed by Sally Bullard and Sheats with 10 points apiece. Adair Marvel also had 9 points.
The team has road games against Mount de Sales Academy and Jackson County on Saturday and Tuesday, respectively. After that, they will host Walker next Thursday.
With the season about to crank into high gear, Olson said he just hopes to help his players have a fun time.
“This year has been such a tough year on all these kids,” Olson said. “If we can give them an experience where they genuinely enjoy being in the gym, genuinely enjoy playing the game of basketball while doing it together, then I think that's the biggest goal. You can talk about championships this, that, all this other stuff, but really what it comes down to is influencing these young ladies and watching them grow as people and as players.”