It is the “heart of the season.”
For Jefferson High School girls’ basketball coach Jason Gibson, that means relying on the lineup that makes the Lady Dragons tick best.
“Early on, we intentionally played 10-12 kids, five in and five out,” he said. “We did that with lots of different combinations, starting lineups and patterns of players that we used. We were doing that to try to build experience, and we were also doing that to see who plays well together, what kids handle the different situations the best. Now, as we’re in the heart of the season, we’ve got that number down to a solid eight.”
On Saturday, that core group propelled the Lady Dragons to their 13th win of the season, a mark that already betters last year’s win total.
JHS beat Winder-Barrow High School, 42-24, in Winder. The contest followed an important region win Friday over Washington-Wilkes, 49-36, and puts the Lady Dragons at 13-6 overall and 3-1 in 8-AA entering a key home stretch.
Jefferson plays Social Circle (2-6) at home 6 p.m. Friday. A win could set-up a huge showdown with Union County (9-4) in Jefferson 6 p.m. Tuesday.
The outcome of that game could decide the No. 1 seed in the region tournament and with it, an automatic state tournament playoff berth that comes with the top seed this year. (The region tournament will be hosted by whichever boys’ team wins the No. 1 seed. Greene County could host if the Tigers knock-off Rabun County Friday.)
Gibson acknowledged what could be at stake next week. But the wins have to fall in place, which means focusing first on Social Circle.
“We’re just trying to take one game at a time,” the coach said. “We’re not looking ahead or anything like that. We’re just getting ready for the next opponent.”
That means tightening the core group of players, including those who drove the Lady Dragons last weekend.
Kellie Goza, in particular, has become a source of strength and versatility for the Lady Dragons. On Friday, she scored 17 points against Washington-Wilkes and is the team’s leading offensive player. The junior averages 12 points and right at 8.5 rebounds per game.
“She has played every position on the floor for us, the 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5,” Gibson said. “And there are games when she plays all five of those positions. She is very valuable, very versatile and I’ve been very proud of how Kellie has played. She has done everything we’ve asked her to do, worked extremely hard in practice. I think she does a very good job of doing whatever we ask of her.”
Seniors Jakeia Wilson and Sarah Wood also have become key players.
Wilson, in particular, has broadened her play to include both the solid point guard responsibilities as well as an increase in scoring.
“She has not really given us a lot of scoring in the last couple of years, but this year we challenged her to step up a little bit and help us by being an offensive weapon,” Gibson said. “She has done that…. She is doing a lot of good things to try to help us be successful.”
Wilson, a senior, is averaging seven points and five assists a game. Classmate Sarah Wood is also providing a dangerous threat, pouring in 20 points every now and then. Gibson said she is working on developing consistency with her offensive game.
“She is working hard,” Gibson said, a quality that extends to all his players right now. “This team really works hard. Practices are very competitive.”
After this critical week of region games, the Lady Dragons will play two non-region teams, including Commerce on Feb. 1 and North Hall on Feb. 2.
Both games are at home. The coach views these contests as important for post-season development as any.
“We try not to worry too much about how wins or losses go when you’re not playing region games,” he said. “We are a lot more concerned about trying to get better and improve as a team in the areas that we need to improve on.”