To make a similar run, Cartersville must once again play its best basketball in February, but it also must do so without the element of surprise.
"Last year I think we just all came together right there at the end and had a great run ... I think we caught people by surprise. And this year we're not gonna catch anybody by surprise," Lady Canes coach Donna Enis said. "I think that last year was a perfect example of coming together and clicking at the right time. We struggled early on, which I knew we would, but the kids kept working, kept listening, kept learning. And then when we hit February that's when everything started falling into place for us. They really just came together as a team and started clicking."
While her players have taken the right approach during the preseason, it still may not be enough to avoid some early-season bumps in the road, Enis acknowledged.
"The kids have come in and worked really hard. They've had a lot of intensity in practice, but we're still gonna have some growing pains because we're still really young, and that's gonna show up, especially early. I'm a little concerned right now with having the depth that we need ... Our bench is still young," she continued. "We're goanna have a lot of work to do. We're playing a really tough schedule, and I think this preseason tournament's gonna be tough. The whole month of December is gonna be tough on us. They will have been through the fire, I believe."
The Lady Canes open the season today in the Darlington Lady Tiger Thanksgiving Classic and play a 6 p.m. game against Model, which went 24-7 last year in Class AA and made it to Round 2 of the state playoffs. Cartersville also plays in two more tournaments before the turn of the calendar -- the Rome News-Tribune Holiday Festival Dec. 15-20 and the Pickens Holiday Classic Dec. 27-29.
"I just feel like it's better to see what we need to work on than to play a weak schedule and have a lot of confidence but not really correct anything. I like the toughness. If we need to take losses early, then that's what we need to do to get better," Enis explained of the Lady Canes' tough opening slate. "I love having a really good record but at the same time, what happens in the end, to me, is the most important thing."
Cartersville seems well-positioned to have the sort of finish it had last year when it went 6-5 in November and December before closing out the season 13-7, including a second-place finish in Region 7-AAA. The Lady Canes have to replace one player from their Elite Eight team -- all-county sixth woman of the year Carlee Bragg, who graduated last May.
"We did lose one but she played a whole lot and played a key role so filling that and ... being able to shift and adjust [is important]," Enis said. "We're looking a little bit different [with our] combination right now than what we did last year, totally. But I think that the depth is gonna be the challenge just because we're young on the bench and, you know, they're working hard to learn what to do."
"We've returned all five starters so that's a big plus," she added in reference to all-county selections Kea Garnigan, Adrienne Green, Stefanie Will and all-county player of the year Kaelyn Irby -- who also earned a spot on the all-state team -- as well as Katie O'Connor. "We've got three seniors [D'Yasmine Richards, Garnigan, Green]. We're looking for leadership out of those three. At this point they're stepping up and doing what they're supposed to. We've only got one junior, which is Jazmien Baldwin, and she's working really hard and looking good. And then we've got our sophomores and so, you know, we're just looking for them to still keep growing and keep learning. ... We're gonna have to play through a lot of mistakes."
Playing through those mistakes and getting better should allow Cartersville to again contend for a top-four, state-qualifying spot in the region tournament, but it will be difficult.
"I feel like our side of the region [7B-AAA] is gonna be pretty tough. I think Allatoona [will be tough], for sure; Pickens is gonna be tough; I think Gilmer is returning a lot of players and they may sneak up on some people. I think, definitely, Allatoona and Pickens will be two that'll really challenge for our side," Enis said. "On the other side [7A-AAA], you got Dalton who played in the state championship, and several of those teams up there had young players ... I think Dalton will probably be the one that will come out on top up there.
"I hope we'll kind of go through some adversity and learn from it, and then hit late January and February I'm hoping we'll be back where we need to be to make a run at it."
The Lady Canes would love nothing more than to play into March for the second straight year, something they have shared with their head coach.
"They've all talked to me. Their goal is to get to the Final Four. ... I love that. I think that that's a good goal but I've been trying to stress to them that it doesn't just happen, it takes a lot of work," Enis said. "We're working hard to get to that goal, but we're gonna have to go through that December stretch and [have] everything kind of come together for us. I like that they set a really high goal and if we can do that, then I'll be really happy."
Cartersville Girls Roster
12 Stefanie Will 10
14 Katie O'Connor 10
15 Kate Garner 10
20 McKenzie Mowry 9
21 Kea Garnigan 12
22 Asia Murray 9
23 Kaelyn Irby 10
30 Morgan Jones 10
40 Adrienne Green 12
42 Maya Jones 10
45 D'Yasmine Richards 12
54 Jazmien Baldwin 11
Cartersville Girls Schedule
Nov. 22 Model Darlington 6 p.m.
Nov. 25 TBA Darlington TBA
Nov. 26 TBA Darlington TBA
Nov. 29 Gordon Central Home 6 p.m.
Dec. 2 Dalton Home 7 p.m.
Dec. 3 Cass Away 6 p.m.
Dec. 10 Dalton Away 3 p.m.
Dec. 15-20 Holiday Festival Berry/Georgia Highlands TBA
Dec. 27 Etowah Pickens 3 p.m.
Dec. 28 West Forsyth Pickens 3 p.m.
Dec. 29 Creekview Pickens 6 p.m.
Jan. 6 Cedartown Home 7 p.m.
Jan. 10 Gilmer Home 6 p.m.
Jan. 13 Allatoona Home 7 p.m.
Jan. 17 Murray County Away 6 p.m.
Jan. 20 Pickens Home 7 p.m.
Jan. 21 Calhoun Home 6 p.m.
Jan. 24 Cedartown Away 6 p.m.
Jan. 27 Gilmer Away 7 p.m.
Jan. 31 Allatoona Away 6 p.m.
Feb. 3 Murray County Home 7 p.m.
Feb. 4 Cass Home 6 p.m.
Feb. 7 Pickens Away 6 p.m.