Gainesville High football
Togetherness is focus for all team sports, and basketball is no different.
There isn’t a coach who doesn’t believe in and preach the idea that five fingers individually can’t pack as big of a punch as when they’re together, making a fist.
At the end of the 2008-2009 season, one in which the team went 7-15, the North Hall girls basketball team had wristbands made with the inscription, “All in.”
From the coaches, to the players, to the parents, everyone is expected to live out the creed.
With all in, they’ve stayed undefeated through eight games, beat two of the state’s top-10 teams and won a Lanierland title.
And the “all in” starts with five of the team’s sophomores.
Taylor Swoszowski, McKenna Rushton, Mary Kate Rushton, Sarah Paschall and Tiffany Hamilton have been playing basketball together since they were in the seventh grade.
“We all get along,” said guard Hamilton, who is the group’s defensive stopper and averages six points per game. “We have the same problems and are the same age and have just bonded, and that’s why we’ve stuck together.”
They’ve trained together on individual skills at the Family Life Center at First Baptist Church, played pickup together at the J.A. Walters YMCA, shot around together while simply hanging out, and the payoff is that they’ve gone from being 2-6 at this point last year to 8-0 this year.
“This year we play as a team,” said McKenna Rushton, who along with Paschall is averaging 10 points. “We’re happy to have five or six scorers (rather than) one big one.”
They’re averaging 48 of the team’s 60 points per game with three of the sophomores — McKenna Rushton, Mary Kate Rushton and Paschall — averaging better than 10 points each.
“You can see in their play that they’re starting to learn each other,” second-year North Hall coach Bryan Richerson said. “They don’t depend on one person, but depend on each other and that’s become the case with the whole team.”
“They’ve matured so much,” added North Hall assistant coach Suzanne Williams. “They handle pressure situations now, whereas last year, they would have folded.”
Case in point: last Tuesday night’s game against eighth-ranked Pickens.
The Lady Trojans were down by 10 at the start of the fourth quarter, but held the Lady Dragons to just one point in the fourth quarter while scoring 13 themselves to win the game.
“They’re doing what it takes to win now,” North Hall assistant coach Kristi House said. “They’re understanding that winning starts with defense, with team and not with who scores the most points.”
The bond shared by the quintet doesn’t end at the court’s edge, and as a result, a undeniable force known as team chemistry has been built.
“They’re always together,” Williams said. “Free time, school time, basketball time, it doesn’t matter. They choose to be together.”
“We spend the night at each other’s houses sometimes twice a week,” Paschall said. “Wherever we go, whatever we do, we’re always together.”
That team chemistry led to four of the sophomores scoring double figures in North Hall’s 65-53 Lanierland championship win over then No. 2-ranked Gainesville. It led to nine team assists, a defensive presence that held the Lady Red Elephants to just seven points in the second quarter, and helped the young Lady Trojans to a 28-15 rebounding advantage.
“We really had no fear,” said Swoszowski, who is was the C.W. Davis Lanierland Tournament MVP as the team’s point guard.
“We didn’t have anything to lose and wanted to play for each other and give everything we had.
“Just because we’re sophomores and young, doesn’t mean we can’t play, and we wanted to prove that.”
Proving that, as the sophomores well know according to Richerson, doesn’t end with winning Lanierland or beating Pickens.
These girls have goals — region goals, state goals — and they know that in order to fulfill them, ego can’t play a part, no matter how early or often success comes.
“Winning Lanierland was awesome,” said Mary Kate Rushton, who is averaging a team best 13 points per game from her shooting guard position. “But we always want to improve. We can’t think of ourselves as the best because we don’t want to be satisfied.
“If we think of ourselves that way, we’ll just get cocky and won’t improve and get our goals.”
In the meantime, the Lady Trojans are undefeated, Lanierland champs, and looking to do nothing short of build on the team chemistry which will in turn build success.
“They’re fun to coach,” Richerson said. “Even if we weren’t 8-0, they’d be fun to coach.
“This group is talented, but they’re also very loving and caring girls and that’s going to carry us a long way.”