At the start of the season in November, the biggest question regarding the Thomas Heyward Academy girls basketball team was how would it respond to the expectations it carried into this season after reaching the SCISAA Class 2-A championship game last year, only to lose to Bible Baptist for the third time.
Twenty-three games and 23 wins later, it's safe to say the Rebels responded well.
Thomas Heyward opens the SCISSA playoffs at 6:30 tonight against The Byrnes Schools at Porter-Gaud in Charleston. This year, the Rebels go in as a No. 1 seed, not a No. 4 like last season.
"The girls are pretty level-headed and pretty loose," Thomas Heyward coach Gary Mazzanna said after practice on Thursday. "They understand it's a four-game season now and the other 23 don't mean anything anymore."
With virtually the entire team returning from last season's playoff run, the Rebels don't deny there's a sense of unfinished business.
"There is that attitude," Mazzanna said, "but it's not an attitude of entitlement."
Instead, it seems to be motivation.
"We're going after what we didn't get last year," junior forward Chandler Cook said.
While the Rebels' long-term focus is on winning a championship, their short-term focus is on the Trojans (13-12), senior forward Meghan Osborne in particular.
Osborne leads the team in every major category, averaging 17.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.0 steals, 3.6 blocks and 2.8 assists. Her scoring average is magnified since the Trojans average just 30 points a game.
"Everything revolves around her," Mazzanna said. "We want to wear her out."
If the Rebels plan on wearing Osborne out, they'll be doing it without their best player. Junior guard and Region 1-AA player of the year Brielle Jungblut will miss today's game with an illness.
"She's our best defensive player, she's our leading scorer, she's our fastest and our quickest," Mazzanna said. "But on this team, somebody will always step up."
Even without Jungblut, if Thomas Heyward succeeds in making it a tough night for Osborne, the Rebels are confident they can control the outcome.
"Our best game is when we run the floor and we set the pace," junior forward Jamie Malphrus said. "We don't think they can keep up with us."
Other girls playoff matchups today featuring area teams include 2-A No. 7 seed Beaufort Academy vs. No. 2 seed Colleton Prep at 8 p.m. at Porter-Gaud in Charleston, 3-A No. 5 seed Hilton Head Prep vs. No. 4 seed Augusta Christian at 5 p.m. at the Augusta Civic Center and 3-A No. 5 seed (upper state) Hilton Head Christian vs. Laurence Manning at 8 p.m. and Wilson Hall in Sumter.
On the boys side on Saturday, 2-A No. 7 seed Beaufort Academy faces No. 2 seed Spartanburg Christian at 1:30 p.m. at Wilson Hall, and 3-A No. 6 seed Hilton Head Christian vs. No. 3 seed Wilson Hall at 4:30 p.m. at the Sumter Civic Center.
Class 3-A girls
Hilton Head Christian vs. Wilson Hall, 8 p.m.
Hilton Head Prep vs. Augusta Chrstian, 5 p.m.
Class 2-A girls
Beaufort Academy vs. Colleton Prep, 8 p.m.
Thomas Heyward Academy vs. The Byrnes Schools, 6:30 p.m.
Class 3-A boys
Hilton Head Christian vs. Wilson Hall, 4:30 p.m.
Class 2-A boys
Beaufort Academy vs. Spartanburg Christian, 1:30 p.m.