by Aaron Garcia
Just days before the Parkwood girls basketball team was set to tip off against Hickory High School in the Class 3A Western regional semifinals at UNC Greensboro on Friday, March 4, the Rebels’ practice consisted of a half-court, four-on-four scrimmage with a chance to skip end-of-practice sprints on the line.
It’s just one of many tactics used by coach Sam Beasley this season, which has also included bringing in his stepson, T.J. Tolbert, and his Marvin Ridge boys basketball teammates for some impromptu scrimmaging.
“You can get burned out pretty quick,” said Beasley. “If I just came in and drilled them a lot like we do early in the year, I think I’d lose them.”
Which would be catastrophic, considering the Rebels have advanced to the regional round of the N.C. state playoffs for the first time since 2003 after running through the first three rounds, including a Feb. 25 win over Charlotte’s Harding University High, 56-52. The win boosted the Rebels’ record to 25-2.
But the four-on-four sessions are only partly strategic. On Mar. 2, starting guard Morgan Brown, who leads the team with 16 points per game, missed her first practice of the season when she attended the funeral of her great grandmother.
“It’s kind of weird not having her at practice,” said guard Cadeja Hood. “We know we have to push ourselves because that’s what she’d want.”
Throw in a season-ending injury to senior forward Bailey Sims in early January, and the Rebels were left with only eight girls available for practice.
Brown is expected to return in time to take the court against Hickory, but sophomore Justice Mckinney will continue to replace Sims. Mckinney, a 5-foot-7 forward, has shined in relief and leads the team with 7.2 rebounds per game.
“She’s the one that gets the least amount of credit, but she gets all the tough rebounds,” Beasley said. “At her height, she doesn’t strike you as a post player, but she works hard and gets position.
“She’s the one on the floor getting that loose ball or that big rebound. She’s been huge for us.”
Which comes in handy during the postseason. Even with the magnitude of Friday’s game, Beasley said his team has handled this season’s big moments well.
“I don’t know how they’ve done it, but they’ve been able to look at everything like, ‘Hey, it’s just another game. Let’s go out and play,’” said Beasley. “That keeps us pretty loose.”
It’s a matter of keeping things in perspective, said senior Tori Tsitouris.
“That’s what it’s all about,” she said. “If you’re not having fun, there’s no point in doing this.”