The annual journey into the postseason is officially underway for Shon Thomaston's Carrollton High School girls' basketball team.
Right from the jump in the first round of the Class AAAAA bracket, his second-seeded Lady Trojans will be met with an opponent just as battle-tested as they are when they welcome third-seeded Cedar Shoals to Criswell Court this Friday at 6 p.m.
And while the veteran head coach isn't the biggest fan of having to wait until the end of the week to kick the tournament off, he views this week as an opportune time to shore up everything they've learned before stepping into the big dance.
"A week is a long time to wait to play just one game, but it does give you time to dig in and learn your opponent really well," Thomaston said. "But we have a lot of stuff on (Cedar Shoals) that we're going to sift through just so we're can be as focused as we can."
Maintaining its status as a top-10 ballclub throughout the entire regular season, Carrollton (22-6) carved a path all the way to last Saturday's Region 7-AAAAA Tournament championship game, where it ultimately fell in a 61-48 decision to rival Villa Rica.
Even with 22 wins and a guaranteed home game to open the postseason, Thomaston thinks there's another level of play that his Lady Trojans can reach. But they have to find it immediately.
"We're still looking for that consistency. It's sad to say that at this time of the year because now you have to be consistent with everything being do-or-die in a potential five-game tournament," Thomaston said. "We're just trying to avoid a letdown and play hard. If we can do that, we can be in any game. I don't see anything on our bracket that I feel will overwhelm us. It's jut a matter of us coming to play."
The CHS head coach and his team know that they will have to come to play on Friday when facing Cedar Shoals (18-9), which managed its way through Region 8. Knowing what the Lady Jaguars from Athens had to go through to get to this point, the Lady Trojans are preparing for a true round-one fight.
"They're region is kind of like ours. It's top-heavy with them, Buford and Flowery Branch, so I imagine that those kids are not going to be fazed by anything that we bring to the table after playing who they've played. They're a formidable opponent, so we're going to have to be prepared to advance to the second round," said Thomaston.
Thomaston said it's going to come down to executing and matching the opponent's intensity.
"As tough as they'll be, I think that we have some things that can counter what they're working with. Particularly, our size inside and our depth. It's a winnable game for us, but we have to do things right and play well in order to have a chance to beat them," Thomaston said.
There is one non-teachable attribute that Thomaston expects to pay major dividends for his group when it takes the floor on Friday — experience.
Seniors like Ansley Barge, Elexus Bell, Erial Daniel and the recently returning Taylor Brown have all been in this same exact position entering the playoffs numerous times before. They know what it takes to win at this stage of the game and anything short of playing to full potential would be a major disappointment.
"If my team was really young and hadn't been here before, then my approach would be totally different. But with so much experience, our expectation is that we're going to win and advance. Not playing to our expectations and not playing the way upperclassmen are supposed to play is not going to be acceptable at this time of year," Thomaston said.
"I feel good about my kids and where we are. Heart and effort haven't been issues. It's just about making the right basketball plays to give us a chance to win."