North Augusta High Lady Jackets Looking for Fourth Consecutive State Championship This Weekend
NORTH AUGUSTA – The North Augusta High School Lady Jackets girls’ basketball team has made winning state championships in Columbia at the Colonial Life Arena an annual March tradition.
On Saturday, March, 7, the Lady Jackets will attempt to capture the team’s fourth consecutive Class 4-A state championship when they face the South Pointe High Lady Stallions at approximately 5:30 p.m. in Columbia. The Lady Jackets dominated Crestwood High in a 58-33 final in the Lower State title game to advance to the Class 4-A title game yet again.
A couple of things are different for North Augusta (27-2) leading up to the title game. First, and perhaps most obvious, the team is not undefeated as has been the case in the past. Still they’ve tasted defeat on just two occasions. Their opponent on Saturday is a familiar one in the Lady Stallions, a team they defeated by just 11 points in 2019 to complete their drive for a three-peat.
North Augusta head coach Al Young, Sr., says his team will need to perform and execute in order to win its fourth consecutive title at Colonial Life Arena.
“Once you’ve played and beaten somebody in that game and they are back, you know they will have revenge on their mind,” commented Young. “I’m sure it will not take their coach much to get them fired up and ready to play. The bottom line is that if we are going to be champions we have to play and beat whoever it is that is there. We just have to make sure we play well. South Pointe has a very good team and we’re going to have to play well. If we do I like our chances.”
Second, some of the team’s younger players have been asked to step to the forefront. Much of that burden has fallen to sophomore point guard Aiyana Hightower and freshman post player P’eris Smith. Young says both players have answered the call, showing improvement as the season has progressed.
“Coming into the season my biggest concern was at point guard because this was the first year in a while where we have had that issue,” stated Lady Jackets’ Head Coach Al Young, Sr. “Having someone new in a starting position, and especially at point guard, was a concern, but Aiyana has really grown and matured and we’ve been very pleased with her and she is playing well. Having P’eris come in as a starter for us as a freshman has been important as well.”
One thing that has not changed is the Lady Jackets’ defense-first approach to the game.
Opponents are only averaging around 33 points per game against them, and Coach Young feels if they are able to maintain something close to that type of defensive performance in Saturday’s matchup with the Lady Stallions, then his team will have an opportunity to win the ballgame. However, one of the key factors in the game will be controlling the Lady Stallions on the boards.
“Anytime a team can rebound the ball and continue to get second shots that’s a plus,” stated Young. “We have to make sure we don’t allow them to do that and shut down their rebounders. One of the challenges they present is that their better rebounders are their perimeter players so sometimes it’s difficult to box them out so that’s a problem for us and we have to make sure we do that.”
Another steadying force this season has been the play of senior standouts Tyliah Burns and J’Mani Ingram. Young says their production and intensity have been nothing short of outstanding.
“They both are tremendous scorers and score the ball really well,” stated Young. “Tyliah is really a dynamic defensive player. She prides herself on that and I can depend on her night in and night out that she is going to work hard and play hard. J’mani is a very, very smart player. She is going to find a way to score and find those open spots in the defense and she’s a very strong on the boards. She is a very physical player as well.”
“All of these girls are like granddaughters to me,” Young added. “It’s so good to be around young kids, period. It keeps me going and I have joy when I can come here every day and interact with them. If I say something crazy they remind me that’s old-time stuff and they don’t use those words anymore, and they try to keep me up to par with what’s going on so it’s fun.”
At practice Wednesday afternoon Young wears a T-shirt celebrating the team’s 2019 championship. On the back it references a big part of what has gone into the success displayed on the front of the shirt – a culture of greatness. Players have come and gone over the past four years, but each Lady Jackets team has been able to recreate a championship culture of their own.
“Everything you do you want to do it well,” commented Young. “You don’t want to take it easy on anything – that’s in the classroom, walking the halls or just anything you do in life. You want to make sure you are doing whatever it takes to be your best in all those things. I believe if you do that it will carry over to the basketball court, and certainly when we are here we expect our kids work hard, to get better, and to be the best they can be. If everybody is doing that you can create that type of culture of greatness. Especially if you understand hard work is important and you are willing to come in and work hard then it makes success a lot easier when you can do those things.”
Among the title banners already hanging in the rafters at North Augusta High School’s gymnasium there remains a conspicuous open spot where another championship banner would appear to fit right in with the others. That’s certainly what Young and the Lady Jackets have in mind.
“This is pretty big for us,” Young said of the opportunity to win a fourth consecutive state championship. “If we can get this done it will be really big.”
LINK TO DISTRICT PRESS RELEASE: 2020 PR LADY JACKETS GO FOR FOUR