Through three games of the 2017-18 campaign, the Heard County High School girls' basketball team can best be described as a work-in-progress.
The Lady Braves (1-2) opened the regular season in last week's Thanksgiving Bash at Bowdon, where they were swarmed by both the host Red Devilettes and Central in the their first two contests before dominating Mount Zion in a 63-26 victory.
Look up and down this year's Heard roster and you'll find a good mix of familiar faces, along with newcomers hitting the prep courts for the first time. Most notably absent, however, is the presence of recently graduated seniors Hannah Sanders and perennial double-double machine Kimberly Harris, both of whom played critical roles in leading HC to back-to-back Class AA state quarterfinal appearances over the past two seasons.
This dramatic shift from having two imposing bigs in the middle to a more guard-oriented system is something head coach Helen Akins and her team are trying to navigate as the season unfolds.
"We're still trying to figure it all out," Akins said. "You've got to center around your personnel and obviously we don't have those bigs, so we're going to figure out what works best for this group."
What Akins does have returning to the hardwood this season is the leadership of senior point guard Sage Kelley, along with fellow floor veterans Haley Bennett, Alexis Nelms and Emily Iddins. Akins hopes the experience of her upperclassmen can serve as a benefit to her team as it navigates its way through a full month of non-region action.
"Playing in (the Thanksgiving Bash) and scrimmaging LaGrange are types of environments we want to be in to see what's best for these kids," Akins said. "Hopefully, by January we'll have it all figured out before the region games start."
And with those seasoned veterans comes the potential for underclassmen to break through. Making her debut in the opener versus Bowdon, freshman guard Sophia Long made a considerable impact on the contest by scoring over 10 points in her debut. After that contest, her head coach was pleased with how she handled herself in Game 1.
"I just think that as a ninth-grader, for a kid to come in and play with that kind of effort and give us those kinds of minutes and that kind of production is huge for us," Akins said. "I'm super proud of Sophia."
After taking a week off for Thanksgiving break, Heard County returns to action tonight at 6 when it travels to Starr's Mill. From there, it will be a steady diet of games where Akins hopes her Maroon and White ballclub can mesh as the season gets into full swing.
"It's just a matter of having some young players step in and take on some new roles. It's going to take time for them to get into game shape and get some minutes under their belt," Akins said. "This is going to be a year where it may take a while to get going and we have a lot of work to do. But these are great kids and I know they'll get there."