For four years, Gainesville’s Jaymee Carnes has tirelessly worked.
So much so that at one point in her sophomore season, Lady Red Elephants coach Manson Hill paid her a coach’s ultimate compliment when he referred to her as a gym rat.
At least it was the ultimate compliment until this year.
With her team — in a fashion unbefitting Gainesville in recent years — sitting at 10-8, Gainesville coach Manson Hill said this of Carnes following a 41-33 win against East Hall, “She’s truly a great player. I think she’s one of the best players to ever play in this county.”
Over her four-year career, Carnes averaged 18 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots. She was named a member of The Times All-Area first team four times while also garnering all-region and all-state honors.
And this year, with her 18.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 3.4 blocked shots per game, Carnes is The Times Girls Basketball Player of the Year for the second time in her storied career.
“It was such a blessing to be able to play for (coach Hill),” Carnes said. “It’s humbling knowing who he’s coached, that he thinks of me like he does.
“I don’t feel that way at all about myself, but I’m honored that he does.”
While this season was one of Carnes’ best individually, for her team it wasn’t quite the swan song she envisioned.
The Lady Red Elephants, outside of region, played some of the top teams in the state in all classifications and even went out of state to take on a few of Tennessee’s traditional girls basketball powerhouses.
While the schedule didn’t make for a pretty record — the Lady Red Elephants lost three straight after opening the season with a win — it did prepare Gainesville for postseason play and Carnes, a Wake Forest signee, for the talent and competition she’ll face in Division I basketball.
“We had to work this season from beginning to end,” Carnes said. “Our schedule prepared us because we played fast teams that liked to pressure and slow teams that liked to zone.
“We were ready for anything we saw in the playoffs and because we started the season out with such tough competition, our improvement throughout the season was more obvious.”
After a last-second loss to West Forsyth on Feb. 9, Gainesville reeled off six straight wins, including its third straight region title, to end the season and Carnes was the catalyst.
She started with a 15-point, 10-rebound effort in a win against White County in the first round of the Region 7-AAA tournament and followed that up with a 17-point, six-rebound performance in a win against Pickens that put her team in the state tournament.
Carnes had arguably her best game of the season in the region semifinals against Flowery Branch, however, and because of it, Gainesville played host to a state tournament game in what would be her final state tournament appearance.
She scored eight of Gainesville’s first 13 points and the Lady Red Elephants’ first six points of the second half to finish with a game-high 26 points, nine rebounds and seven blocks — including five in the first quarter.
“She’s a warrior and there’s a reason I said she was one of the best ever in Hall County,” said Hill following the game. “She defends, she blocks shots, she can drive, she can score inside and out, she can bring the ball up the floor — she was just great.”
Carnes’ performance in the region championship game the following night included 22 points and 10 rebounds and another title for Gainesville.
“This year was more about what my team needed instead of just scoring a lot,” Carnes said. “I came in wanting to pick up a rebound or get a steal if needed, and be more of a vocal leader and I was.”
Carnes is also prepared for what’s next.
“I’m looking forward to the competition,” said Carnes of playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference. “Coach Hill prepared me because of our schedule and the individual skill workouts, which were like nothing I’d ever seen.
“To see where I came from to now, he prepared me to become the best I can be.”