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Eastside girls basketball's comeback season ‘just getting started’
EHS Girls Hoops
Head coach Gladys King (far left) oversees her team as they practice a full court drill on Dec. 21 inside Eastside High School’s new gymnasium. - photo by Phillip B. Hubbard

COVINGTON, Ga. — At a Dec. 21 practice, Eastside girls basketball coach Gladys King surveys her players working on a full court press drill. While they run up and down the court in the gym with no fans, King is giving instruction and helping guide them through the who, what and why of the drill. 

Once the ball goes through the net — signifying a successful drill attempt — King drowns out the silence of an empty gym with cheering and clapping while explaining the difference in the team’s attempts. 

After that, it’s just rinse and repeat throughout all the drills for the remainder of practice. 

Kaliel Kracht and Donee Morain emphatically stated during that particular day, that practice is often more difficult than the actual games they play. Morain, a freshman, stressed how those difficult practices have helped the team be successful on the court this year. 

“I feel like we practice so hard that the game could be so easy,” Morain said. “And, although our opponent might not be easy, our fundamentals are when we get out on the floor.” 

So far, the Lady Eagles have seen a slight turnaround in this year’s results compared to last season.

Currently, Eastside is 7-8 overall with a 2-4 record in Region 8-AAAAA, which places it fifth behind Heritage. Fifteen games into last season, the Lady Eagles stood at 3-12 overall with a 2-7 record in region play — they also finished last season with six wins total. 

Beyond the win column, another vast difference in 2022-23 is the average margin of defeat. Among the 12 losses, the Lady Eagles lost by an average of 29 points. This year, that margin is just seven. 

But winning doesn’t bring about the best satisfaction for the players. Kracht, a junior on this year’s team, recognized how the team gets excited whenever they execute a play to perfection. 

“It’s really nice when we execute our offense to break the press and get an easy layup,” Kracht said. 

One game, in particular, brought the most gratification for this year’s Lady Eagles squad. 

On Dec. 13, Eastside welcomed Heritage (Conyers) to its home facility for a Region 8-AAAAA contest. It was a back-and-forth game that went down to the wire. So much so that it had to be decided in overtime. 

Coming away with a 65-62 victory taught Morain one important lesson. 

“It showed that our hard work pays off,” Morain said. “We prepared a lot that whole week. It made me glad to know that when you work hard, it’s going to come back to you.” 

Jailyn Williams leads the team averaging 11.1 points per game. But Morgan Sandema is in top place for the Lady Eagles in rebounds (5.5), assists (1.3), steals (3.3) and blocks (1). 

Kracht averages 5.1 points and 3.7 rebounds per game while Morain contributes 4.6 points and 3.6 rebounds each contest.  

The results on the court are the top priority at practice, but something is happening amid all of the movement throughout each session. 

Morain said there has been a family atmosphere that began over the summer workouts. 

“Whenever someone messes up, everyone is willing to help out each other,” Morain said. “Nobody’s ever barking, but it’s calm and relaxed. We make sure we take it step by step, staying on our fundamentals to help make big plays.” 

Kracht credited the camaraderie felt by every member of the team as a difference maker. 

“We have started working together as a team and there have been people who have stepped up as leaders,” Kracht said. “That has encouraged everybody to try their best.” 

Eastside has gotten payback on a few opponents that triumphed over it last season, too. 

In an in-county matchup last season, the Newton Lady Rams defeated the Lady Eagles 76-17. Not only has Eastside gotten Newton back this year, but it’s done so twice. The Lady Eagles also got the better of Clarke Central in the first of their two region matchups whereas last season, Eastside lost. 

The Lady Eagles almost exacted revenge on a non-region opponent in Ola this year, losing 51-50 on Nov. 26. A year ago, it was no competition as Eastside suffered a 72-24 defeat. 

Another major difference compared to last year is the gym Eastside is playing in. 

Last year, it finished its final season in the “old Eastside” gym. This year, the team and its fans are enjoying what all of Eastside refers to as “The Eagles Nest.” The current gym is bigger and allows for more fans to attend each game. 

Kracht has noticed a more electric atmosphere playing on the new court. 

“[The new gym is] better, because more people are able to come and support,” Kracht said. “Now, I feel like there’s more exposure for the program.”  

Eastside christened the new gym with back-to-back, double-digit wins to start the season 2-0. It beat Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy 54-38 on Nov. 15 followed by a 60-26 win over Salem four days later. 

In the seven home games to this point, the Lady Eagles are 3-4, which already matches the win total from last year at 3-7. 

Moving forward, Morain mentioned her desire to work on the “mental part of the game” while Kracht said she wants to become more of a leader on the team. 

All of the efforts — in practice and in the game — are going toward the common goal of returning to the state playoffs. 

And, while the 2022-23 season has rendered a better result than last year, Eastside’s not done making noise. 

“There’s more coming,” Morain said. “We’re just getting started…Go Eagles!”