Nov. 12—GMC Prep girls basketball shocked some people by earning a state playoff berth last season.
The Lady Dogs were coming off a one-win campaign the year prior and looked poised to be in the same neighborhood in 2022-23. But head coach Shawn Dennis' girls played their best ball down the stretch, grabbing hold of the region's third seed before a first-round playoff exit in what ended up as an 8-19 year.
"We started to come on strong towards the end of the season and hit our stride," Dennis said.
Now heading into his 11th season as varsity girls coach, Dennis hopes the lessons learned carry over into this year as he welcomes in some talented eighth-graders turned freshmen that can maybe get the program back competing for region titles.
"There are two, maybe three, that can play heavy varsity minutes," the head coach said. "We've got about 10 or 11 JV games, so all the freshmen should get plenty of playing experience this season."
A key returner along with a young newcomer are expected to carry the scoring torch when the Lady Dogs take the floor.
"Corrine Rudolph has been our starting point guard the last three years," Dennis said of the senior. "It's pretty much her team to run. We'll go as she goes. I'm also looking for freshman wing Harmony Watkins to step up and help out with the scoring."
Rudolph was the team's leader in points per game last season at just under 7 points per. Despite her small size, she was also among the top rebounders averaging over 5 boards. Those stats helped earn her First Team All-Region/Second Team All-County recognition.
Dennis also has more depth to look forward to this season with a 15-player roster that's pretty evenly distributed among the four classes. With the team's fairly even mix of experience and new blood, a bulk of the summer practice period was spent on something other than scrimmaging, which is what many programs do.
"We did more skill development than actual game playing," Dennis pointed out, adding that there were some practice games mixed in. "You can have all the X's and O's you want, but if you can't pass, dribble or shoot, then none of that matters."
The region outlook is similar to last year as it could be the same four teams fighting it out for playoff spots. Johnson County is the favorite in what would be a repeat for the Lady Trojans of Wrightsville. Glascock took second followed by GMC and Twiggs, whom the Lady Dogs battled in three close games last season.
"We're hoping we can be more competitive with Glascock and try to fight for that second seed," Dennis said. "You would expect all the teams to improve, so you really never know."
In order to compete for that second seed and possibly a region championship, personnel losses to graduation will have to be more than canceled out by newcomers and the aforementioned offseason focus on skill development. The early non-region portion of the schedule should serve as an indicator. Out of the team's eight wins last season, only one came outside of region play.
"I want to see the girls improve as basketball players," Dennis added on what success looks like for this year's team. "We play a lot of tough teams early that beat us pretty good last year. Hopefully those games can be more competitive and we can maybe pull out a couple of wins while continuing to win as we get into region."
The Lady Dogs' season tips off Friday at Augusta Christian. The home opener inside Cordell Gymnasium is set for Nov. 28 against that same Augusta Christian team. Region play begins following the holiday break, at home Jan. 5 versus Glascock. Looking ahead to mid- to late February, Wilkinson County will host the region tournament's opening rounds before play moves to the highest remaining girls seed's site.