Not since the quarterfinal run of 2015 has the Central High School girls' basketball team graced its presence in the state playoffs.
After a scheduled pep rally and a two-hour bus ride up to Tunnel Hill, that will change as the fourth-seeded Lady Lions will aim to send shockwaves with a first-round upset in the Class AAAA bracket when they challenge top-seeded and fifth-ranked Northwest Whitfield at 6 p.m. on Friday.
Central (15-11) clawed its way to a postseason berth in dramatic fashion during the Region 5-AAAA Tournament last week, surviving a 54-51 overtime thriller versus Cedartown to keep its season alive before falling to LaGrange in the semifinal round.
Alongside his Lady Lion players, Joshua Smith is experiencing the postseason for the first time as head coach for CHS. Everyone within the program is thrilled to be in this position, but they're not just satisfied with making the first round. They want to do some damage and keep the momentum rolling.
"We don't have a single girl on the roster that's ever played in a state playoff game. If nothing else, this is going to be a great experience for everyone," Smith said. "The goal has always been to get to the big dance, but while we're there, we want to do a little bit of dancing, too. We want to have a great showing and watching film and putting in the work is the only way we're going to do that."
The focus of Monday's practice was mostly watching film and familiarizing themselves with the tough draw that awaits them.
"We really watched to see where we can penetrate their defense and how we're going to stop them on defense," said Smith
CHS will surely have its work cut out for itself come Friday evening upon facing Northwest Whitfield (24-3), which is viewed as one of the favorites to make a run all the way to the state championship game.
Finishing the regular season ranked No. 5 in AAAA, the Lady Bruins mauled through their competition this winter, finishing with a perfect record in Region 6 play. Smith noted several aspects of Central's first-round opponent that immediately stuck out.
"They can go five-in and -five-out and not miss a beat, so they're very deep. Jada Griffin down low is a hoss. If she gets the ball on the block, it's two points," said Smith.
"They also have a great full-court pressure defense that's really tough to break. A lot of their opponents that we've seen on film have a tough time breaking it. The benefit for us is that we've gone against Sandy Creek, LaGrange, Troup and Cedartown who full-court press for 32 minutes. It won't be anything that we haven't seen, but they do it in a way that's different than the others so that will be an adjustment for us. Coach (Greg) Brown does a good job, so we've got our hands full."
The Lady Lions are prepping for battle for what will be their toughest test of the year. Having scrapped in so many close games this season, Smith believes that if his girls can put themselves in a position hang around late, then all bets are off.
"We've played five region overtime games this year and won three of them, so we like to think that if this game comes down to the wire in the fourth quarter, then we like our chances," Smith said. "We're really excited for this opportunity to go play them. Whatever happens, it won't be for a lack of effort on the coaching staff's part schematically or on the girls' effort on the court."