By DENNIS BRUNSON
Item Sports Editor
The Sumter High School varsity girls basketball team has gone deep into the 4A state playoffs the past two seasons. During the 2004-05 campaign, the Lady Gamecocks reached the lower state finals, losing to Dutch Fork. Last season SHS reached the third round, again losing to Dutch Fork. With three returning starters from that 25-4 team, Sumter head coach Jeff Schaffer said a goal for this team is to go deeper in the playoffs than either of the two previous teams, which would mean earning a berth in the state championship game.
"I really do think we are capable of accomplishing that," said Schaffer, whose squad opens its season Friday by playing host to Crestwood. "I like the attitude of our four seniors; they know exactly what it is that they want to accomplish.
"They've been working hard and are pretty much in game shape. They have a desire to go beyond what they have in the past few years."
Three of those seniors will be in the starting lineup — post player Lillian McGill, point guard Frances Fields and wing Ra'Quitta Lundy. The other senior is Tiffany McMillan.
McGill, who has been named one of the top five seniors in the state by the South Carolina Basketball Coaches Association, averaged 13.8 points and 12.2 rebounds a game last season. Fields, who has signed to play collegiately with High Point, averaged 12.6 points, 3.6 steals and 5.2 assists last year. Lundy averaged 6.0 points and 6.2 rebounds.
Schaffer said his team won't make any greater effort to get the ball in McGill's hands than it has in the past.
"I feel like Lill is going to get hers no matter what," Schaffer said. "She's worked quite hard to improve her game. Over the summer, she worked really hard on developing a 10-foot jump shot. That should make her more confident facing the basket."
Schaffer hopes the presence of 6-1 sophomore Bashanda Powell in the starting lineup will open things up for McGill.
"Bashanda has shown an ability to really go get it when she wants to it," Schaffer said. "When's she focused and is really into what's going on, she can be really tough. She has great hands and she looks to pass to Lillian. I'm hoping we can have post-to-post passing whereas before most of it would be post-to-guard passing. Hopefully we'll be able to have Lillian dump it to Bashanda and vice versa."
The Lady Gamecocks will be trying to fill a void with the loss of Robin Covington, who was the team's best defensive player. Schaffer said that while Lundy doesn't have the wingspan that Covington has, she might be quicker than her former teammate. Also, Fields could see some time serving as SHS's shutdown defender, even though Schaffer said he doesn't like to use his point guard in such a role too often.
The fifth starter on Friday will be either Jasmine Alston and Shanice Cooper, both of whom saw playing time last season. The rest of the roster includes Kashia Bracey, Latasha Woods, Rachel Sorrells and Monique McBride.
Schaffer said Sumter will continue to try and push the issue offensively with its running game.
"We're going to continue to try and run the floor like we have the last few years," he said. "We've got four girls who are pressing 6-0 (in height), so we might be able to do more in the post than we have, but we're still wanting to run when we can."