If there was anything to take away from last Friday’s game between the girls basketball teams at Athens Academy and Prince Avenue Christian School, it’s that the Lady Spartans accomplished one of their regular goals.
Athens Academy’s coaches and players are always intent on performing as a cohesive unit. After knocking off their cross-town rival on its home floor 53-38, they felt that mission was completed.
Five Lady Spartans contributed in the scoring effort and virtually every player who saw action was an integral piece of the puzzle, whether through offensive movement or defensive pressure.
That’s exactly how head coach Brian Olson wants it to be.
“We have the confidence in our girls that, on any given night, someone is going to step up,” Olson said following the region victory over Prince Avenue. “The fact of the matter is it's a collective effort, not necessarily an individual scoring effort. It's nice to be able to rely on multiple girls. They all know their role and they all have a place within our program and are confident to knock down shots when they need to.”
Friday’s game had an early feeling-out process which produced a scoreless game through the first two minutes. Athens Academy worked to a 5-0 lead before free throws by the Lady Wolverines got Prince Avenue on the board with 5:38 left in the first quarter.
Prince Avenue cut that score to 5-3 before the Lady Spartans went on a run to finish the quarter ahead 14-4.
Athens Academy senior Meg Williams, who drained three 3-pointers in the first quarter, completed a 3-point play after drawing a foul on a layup attempt. That put the Lady Spartans ahead 25-9 with around 2:40 left in the first half.
The Lady Spartans’ dominance continued from there.
They applied heavy pressure via a press defense, which created turnovers and led to easier scoring opportunities.
Jaila Salley-Barnett sank a 3-pointer to beat the buzzer at the end of the second quarter, giving Athens Academy a 32-13 halftime lead.
Meredith Reynolds said the Lady Spartans’ high-pressure defense sets the team up for offensive success.
“We've worked a lot on our press this year,” Reynolds said. “Communication is our biggest thing as a team, defensively and offensively. I think we come together the best on defense, which helps us execute on offense.”
With regard to team’s shooting success, Salley-Barnett said the scoring effort begins with the players’ mental approach to offense.
“We push each other in practice, we push each other even off the court,” Salley-Barnett said. “We tell each other, if you shoot and miss, we just tell the person that missed to keep taking the shots. You're gonna hit it eventually, so why not keeping taking them?”
The Lady Spartans kept taking them in the second half and many of them kept falling.
Prince Avenue had a notable run in the third quarter, highlighted by a 3-point play by Noelle Hynes to make it a 36-22 game and then a 3-pointer by Audrey Vandagriff a short while later to bring the score to 40-25.
The score stood at 42-25 entering the final period.
“We know teams, especially good teams, are gonna go on runs like that,” Sally-Barnett said. “We prepare for things like those in practice. The coaches do a great job with keeping us out of our own heads.”
The Lady Wolverines put up a fight in the fourth quarter and prevented the game from getting too far out of hand. But the damage had been done, and Athens Academy maintained its stingy defense.
That resulted in a rivalry win that also counts toward the Region 8-A-Private standings.
“It's always a big game,” Williams said about facing the Lady Wolverines. “For us to come out big with this win, especially a region win, it's huge. We're just glad we got it. Now, we move on to the next game. We take it day by day.”
Friday’s win improved Athens Academy’s record to 11-3. On Monday, the Lady Spartans beat Providence Christian Academy 49-30 and moved to 12-3.
While discussing his team’s strong season to this point, Olson credited the players with their efforts to stay on the court despite the ongoing pandemic.
“It's been a really special group,” Olson said. “With all the challenges that we're facing, we've been extremely proud with the way our girls have handled themselves and the safety precautions they're taking. I feel like our school has supported us and done a great job with our facilities and making sure we're supported.”
The Lady Spartans will play at Athens Christian School this Friday in a return to region action. They will return home for a game against George Walton Academy next Tuesday.
With the season hitting its final stretch, Olson said he expects the Lady Spartans to continue their recent strong push.
“I'm proud of them because, when I walk out into a gym, I want them to represent Athens Academy, their families and us as a collective unit,” Olson said. “I feel like that is really, in turn, what's created the success, along with their work ethic. They're working for it. Nothing's been given to them and they work hard every day. It's a great group to be around.”