The Lady Eagles of Eastside had led for most of the game, but Chestatee took its first lead with six minutes left in the fourth quarter of the region championship. The rest of the story you should already know. A back and forth battle ensued for the rest of the fourth, but Chestatee scored the final points and got the win after Eastside had taken a 50-49 lead with 38 seconds to play.
That gut-wrenching loss for Lady Eagles’ head coach Matthew Jackson has carried over into this, but in a good way.
“That’s fuel. And that’s what I want them to have, that fuel. Being seniors now, that attitude passes down to the other girls,” Jackson said. “Luck beat us last year. This year, we’re not going to let that happen. Fueling that fire with things that we know we could have done better last year, that’s the added incentive.”
Raynesha Clay and Dejene Saintilus, two carry-overs from last year’s team that suffered the region championship loss and the subsequent five-point loss to Marist in the first round of state who are now seniors have brought a sense of resiliency to this year’s squad.
“I’ve come and I’ve talked to them. They’ve talked to me and they’re like, ‘Coach we fell short last year. We’re not going to fall short (this year),’” Jackson said. “Being in the program, ‘can’t’ has always been a bad word. You can’t do this, you can’t do that. Can’t has always been that word, so that’s what we’re going on. We’re going out there and we’re going to do it this year. That’s their attitude and that’s always been my attitude.”
Returning to the region championship game will be a tough task for Eastside. The team lost seven seniors from last year’s team, but Clay and Saintilus have stepped up as leaders on the court. It’s evident in their practices that the Lady Eagles are serious about this year. At one point during practice, the girls were having a little bit of fun, but then the girls put it to stop and went to work.
“Both of them have stepped up. They’re vocal, they’re leaders. They’re go-getters. They have aspirations to go to college and play ball if it happens that way. If not, go to college and just come out and be great citizens. That’s the mentality they have,” Jackson said about Clay and Saintilus. “They both have stepped up to take those leadership roles and to be that coach on the floor. and not just on the floor, but in the classroom as well. I’m very happy, pleased and proud to see them mature and become the young ladies that they are today.”
What the Lady Eagles lack on offense, they’ll make up for on defense.
“We got to get up after people. We have to play good, solid defense first and I always told (the players), ‘Let our defense be our offense,’” Jackson said.
“We’re going to be prepared to throw the kitchen sink at everybody. We want teams to know when they play us, we're going to throw everything at them. We’re going to do everything that we can to put ourselves in position to win.”
The season tips off November 24 against Grayson.
“I’m really excited about our chances,” Jackson said. “We’re in a brand new region, we’re in a rougher region. We’re more up and down, so our styles are going to be similar. But that’s ok. We look forward to the challenge. I’m expecting to keep that ball rolling, make the playoffs, but this year we want to go deep.”