Class 2A blog: Thomson girls win with younger leading youngest

Sophomores guide freshmen for No. 4 Bulldogs

Credit: Stock/pixapay

Credit: Stock/pixapay

On Tuesday, the No. 4 Thomson Bulldogs (15-4, 10-0 Region 4) host Laney (12-8, 5-5) in the second of a three-game home stand, with the chance to extend their win streak to 10. The game will be a rematch from Jan. 6, when the Bulldogs won 72-46.

No 4-2A team has beaten the Bulldogs this season, and that includes Josey, which was No. 2 when Thomson won 36-32 on Jan. 13. Three days later, they beat No. 9 Butler 56-51 in overtime. It was an incredible two-game stretch for the Bulldogs, a young team with a second-year coach trying to top last season, when they competed in 3A and won their first playoff game in 20 years.

Just like last season, the Bulldogs are winning young, but managed to get even younger. For the second year in a row, sophomore Jada Kendrick is leading the team in scoring, averaging 18.8 points with 7.9 rebounds, 3.9 steals and 2.4 assists. Fellow sophomore Ty Latimore averages 14.5 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.4 steals.

Kendrick and Latimore are two of three sophomores on the team, and they account for most of the team’s output. They’re also veterans compared to the five freshmen, led by starting point guard Paris Rosser (6.9 points, 5.6 steals, 4.1 assists, 3.3 rebounds) and Denesha Hester (8.9 points, 2.9 rebounds).

“I’ve always said it’s babies leading babies,” Bulldogs coach Sierra Williams said.

It may be a reflection of Williams and her early-career success that the team can win now despite going up against players sometimes 1-3 years older. After spending several years working as an assistant, her first opportunity to be a head coach opened before last season. She landed the job and make an immediate impact.

“I live by the motto, ‘Stay ready so that you don’t have to get ready,’” Williams said. “When the coaching position came open, I’d been preparing myself for years. I was the JV coach here three years, and I ran my JV team just as if it were varsity. When it came time to move up, we just continued working. The preparation and expectations were no different.”

Regardless of age or experience, the common denominator with Williams and the team is commitment to winning.

“We put the work in every day,” she said. “We’re extremely young, with sophomores leading a great group of freshmen. They’re talented. I told them to trust me, and allow me to teach them to play and, with their talent, it works. It’s every coach’s goal for the team to click at the right time. We’re grinding every day, watching film, in the weight room, the offseason. All of that is building up to now. We’re just learning and growing every day, trusting the process.”

With the Bulldogs being so young, Williams must focus on making sure they’re executing and learning, regardless of the score. That has resulted in some lopsided wins, including 80-2 over Wilkinson County on Dec. 6, and 67-4 over Glenn Hills on Jan. 3.

Lately, Kendrick has been playing on a different level. She’s scored exactly 30 points in each of the Bulldogs’ last three games while shooting 58% from the floor. In the two games before that, she scored 18 points — half of her team’s 36 — in the Josey win, and 23 against Butler.

“She was always filling the stat sheet but this year we had about 11 or 12 new kids on the team, and it was a matter of her figuring out what the team needed from her,” Williams said of Kendrick. “She’s starting to figure that out, and now she’s finding her groove.”

The Bulldogs have four regular season games left, with the final two at Josey on Feb. 7, then at home against Butler Feb. 10. They’ve taken on a different mindset after the win in their first meeting with Josey, with Williams saying, ”We put a target on our backs with that one.”

The Bulldogs have dealt with adversity as well, losing one of their two seniors, plus a junior, sophomore and freshman, all to ACL tears. They have five losses, though they came to teams from higher classifications that are either currently ranked, or were ranked at the time they played. Nonetheless, losing was unfamiliar to the freshmen, who came from a middle school team that routinely won games by 40-50 points.

Though most of the Bulldogs have multiple seasons remaining in their prep careers, it’s not too early to have championship aspirations this year. The furthest the program has been is the quarterfinals, most recently in 2002.

“We are focused on the ‘right now,’” Williams said. “Our goal is to do what we can to be as successful as we can this season. Yes, we do have freshmen and sophomores, and we’re still missing some key pieces. And, the future looks extremely bright for us. If we continue to work for us and stick together, this could become the best girls basketball team in Thomson history. They take pride in having the potential to do that. It’s about trusting the process and committing to doing the work and getting better each time.

“If you put the work in, you’ll see the results for sure. We’re playing some really good basketball right now. They say I never compliment them, but they really are playing some good basketball. I also told them what’s scary is we’re playing this well and we still haven’t peaked yet.”