The fun starts now.
Seniors on the Whale Branch Early College High School girls basketball team remember when the mood wasn't as light, when the Warriors stuggled through their inaugural season, many playing organized basketball for the first time and without the benefit of a true ball-handler.
But the process was started. The second season brought reinforcements from Whale Branch Middle School, including guard Kemoni Jenkins, and the Warriors reached the playoffs for the first time, won the program's first playoff game before being eliminated during the second round.
The pieces are in place now -- an 8-0 run through Region 5-A and the program's first region title, helped confirm it. Whale Branch opens the Class 1-A girls playoffs today, playing host to Lincoln.
Hilton Head Island High School girls, who are the No. 2 seed from Region 7-AAA, host Gilbert Monday night to open the Class 3-A playoffs. In the Class 2-A girls first round, which starts Tursday, Battery Creek High School girls travel to Silver Bluff and Ridgeland-Hardeeville plays host to Calhoun County.
As the No. 3-ranked team in Class 1-A, everyone expects more from the Warriors than a second-round exit. Whale Branch coach Wilbert Bryant and the Warriors are prepared to deliver.
"If you judge by who we played in the pre-region schedule, expectations are pretty high," said Bryant, whose team split with Hilton Head High and Battery Creek early in the season. "We did pretty well against larger schools. I challenged them to make a bigger run in the playoffs."
The coach loves his backcourt now, two seasons after the Warriors struggled to even get the ball past halfcourt. Jenkins, Sharrin Reed and Kenyada Moultrie understand the system and feed off one another, harassing on defense, pushing the ball in transition and either getting to the basket or finding a post player underneath.
"We want to be agressive without fouling," Bryant said. "So far, we've been successful."
Whale Branch wants to work the ball from inside to out. And the guards trust their personnel underneath.
Original Warrior S'Nitra Mack, an all-state selection a season ago, was joined by freshman Jonae Riley and sophomore Cheyenne Rogers in the post. Jenkins is content to drive and pass, the only issue whether teammates can corral the bullets.
Teammates welcomed Riley, a freshman who came in and made an immediate impact.
"I plugged her in, and we kept right on rolling," Bryant said. "The seniors accepted the newcomers."
The balance encourages Bryant, but he is wary.
Lincoln, the fourth seed from Region 6-A, finished 4-14 and lost to teams Whale Branch routed.
"We'll treat them like they're a No. 1 seed," Bryant said.
S.C. High School League girls basketball playoffs
Gilbert at Hilton Head Island, 7 p.m. Monday
Calhoun County at Ridgeland-Hardeeville, 7 p.m. Tuesday
Battery Creek at Silver Bluff, 7 p.m. Tuesday
Lincoln at Whale Branch, 7 p.m. Monday