Youth is prevalent across the board for the Central High School girls' basketball team this winter, but that doesn't mean Josh Smith is still forging through a rebuilding process.
The Lady Lion head coach anticipates some growing pains with only one senior and one junior on the roster, but there is plenty of talent to work with in 2017-18. It just happens to be young talent.
"I really like the way this group is jelling right now. We've got a strength in our 10th-grade class. We've only got one senior and one 11th-grader, so we're playing a lot of freshmen and sophomores right now. But we're excited about the possibilities for this year," Smith said.
Senior point guard Haley Luke returns to the Central backcourt, while junior forward Haley Fehring brings a veteran presence in the paint. But beyond that, it'll be underclassmen such as sophomores Hannah Harding, Janae Jackson, Nyah Houston, Jade Simmins, Teonna Thomasson and Asia Mitchell needing to step up and contribute, along with freshmen Rachel Wilson and Lyric Lowe.
The Lady Lions (4-1) opened the campaign with a 2-1 showing at the Thanksgiving Bash at Bowdon, knocking off Mount Zion and Heard County and falling to Class AAAAAAA Kennesaw Mountain.
Following a near 10-day break from competition, Central returned to the court on Friday and took down Temple in a 47-31 road tussle before battling Northgate in a 42-28 Saturday matinee victory in Lion Valley.
One issue Smith has noticed early in the year that his squad will have to learn how to handle is facing teams that like to press and play a physical brand of basketball.
"We're going to see that game-in and game-out in our region. We've got to be able to combat that and combat our emotions, as well. Sometimes we get a little fired up, and that's what I love about these girls," Smith said. "But we've got to harness those emotions and push in the right direction."
Central will have a good idea of its rotation by the start of Region 5-AAAA play once the calendar flips to 2018.
Leading up to the league slate, the Lady Lions will compete in a pair of holiday tournaments, co-hosting the SMI Carroll County Christmas Classic on Dec. 14-16 and then taking part in the Hilburn-Patterson Haralson County Invitational Tournament on Dec. 27-29 before hosting LaGrange in the 5-AAAA opener on Jan. 2.
The schedule is a bit strange once region play begins, as Central will have four straight home dates and then a grueling, six-game road stretch that spans from Jan. 13-26 before returning home for the final two regular-season contests.
Once again, the region is expected to be tough from top to bottom, with Sandy Creek returning as the 5-AAAA champion following a run to the Class AAAA state semifinals last season.
LaGrange finished second in the region last year and reached the sweet 16, falling to eventual state semifinalist Cross Creek, while Chapel Hill placed third and also reached the second round before bowing out to eventual state runner-up Carver, Columbus. Troup was the No. 4 seed and the only team not to make it out of the first round of the state playoffs.
Even with a tough road ahead of it, the focus for Central is to get back into the state playoffs for the first time since its Class AAA elite eight run in 2014-15.
Smith is confident that if everything comes together for his young squad, it's an attainable goal for this group.
"We've got it on our board in our locker room. We want to make the state tournament this year and that's what we're pushing toward," Smith said. "But it happens every day in practice. We can't play the state tournament now. We have to get better every day that we play. That's our goal."