Life is good over at Eastside High School these days, especially if you are an athlete.
The football team has had a successful season and the Lady Eagle softball team finished third in state. Now it's the basketball teams' shot at winning.
The Lady Eagles are a work in progress. With only two seniors, Eastside remains one of the youngest teams in the region.
"Last year was encouraging because we were dressing out six freshman," head coach Jason Grooms said. "I felt like we got better as the year went on. One good thing is a lot of our young girls were able to get a lot of game experience early on."
The Lady Eagles lose leading scorer Ashley Burts. Point guard Raven Williams, who started last year as a freshman, returns and will be called upon to run the floor.
Joining her, transfers J’Quyra Moncur-Blue and Ieisha Williams should bring experience to the young team.
Jade Cook comes back as Eastside’s number one scoring option. Grooms admits scoring was hard to come by in 2007, so this year he needs more than one girl to shoulder the load.
"I will rely on both Raven [Williams] and Jade Cook," Grooms said. "Both of them started in every game they were healthy in last year. I’m also hoping to get a big year from Ashley Crew. She is the tallest girl I have and probably one of the most physical."
Like all other Eastside teams, the Lady Eagles drop down to Class AAA. Last year, they stumbled through region 8-AAAA play. While they finished a respectable 8-19 overall, Eastside limped to a 1-11 record in region play including a tough loss to Alcovy in a rival game.
Carmen Robinson should provide defensive pressure at the guard position and Grooms said he won’t hesitate to run a deep rotation.
"I would love to play 10 girls," he said. "I always say that in the beginning of the year but it seems like it goes down. But if I can get 10 girls to give me solid minutes, that will be good for us."
One of the points of emphasis over the off-season has been taking care of the ball and breaking the press. Last year the Lady Eagles struggled to handle on-ball pressure. This year though, Grooms is confident he has more than one player that can take care of the ball.
"We can definitely do better against pressure but I feel a lot more confident about our ball handlers this year," he said. "I feel like we have four or five girls that can handle the ball."
His returning starters are young, but seasoned. Grooms threw them in the fire early and they responded.
"Going from middle school to varsity basketball is a big jump," Grooms said. "I think the physical aspect and the speed is so much different. The young girls that are coming back took about a half a year to get used to that."
Grooms doesn’t mince words when he said he believes the Lady Eagles have a good shot at reaching the postseason.
His team’s chances rose to 50/50 as soon as Eastside changed regions. But he knows it’s going to take a total team effort. Eastside is small and young so a guaranteed spot in the playoffs is anything but a sure thing.
"My ultimate goal is to get to the state playoffs and I think it’s attainable," I really do," he said. "There are eight teams in the region and the top four get to go. We have to really work hard and the team will have to work hard together, but I think we have a shot."