Frederick Toomer gleaned all he could from an archived online video of one St. Joseph's game.
The Ridgeland High School girls basketball coach, whose team faces St. Joseph's today in Columbia for the Class 1-A girls basketball title, held the scouting report in his hand as he addressed his team during practice Thursday. St. Joseph's boasts three legitimate post players, he said. The challenge was to decide who would guard whom.
Toomer then opened the floor to questions.
Someone asked about dinner plans for Friday night. A restaurant debate broke out. California Dreaming and Olive Garden were among the favorites. The debate turned to entertainment options. The girls talked about bowling or going to a movie. Something that doesn't risk injury, Toomer said. No roller skating.
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Toomer cut the conversation short.
"When I said, 'Any questions?' "Toomer said, "I meant about matchups."
If the Jaguars are nervous about playing on the state's biggest stage, they aren't showing it.
Ridgeland is trying to win the first girls basketball title for the school and the first by a Jasper County public school since the Grays Consolidated School girls won the Class C title in 1957.
Hardeeville High School reached the state finals the past two seasons, losing to Christ Church each time. Toomer said Jasper County High School never won a girls basketball title before the school split, either.
The Jaguars are hoping their defense can get them there. Their defense up top, led by April Jenkins and Briana Walker, has led to easy baskets. When a shooter is left open, as Tonisha Roberts was late in the game last week, the Jaguars have been able to convert.
Ridgeland scored a season-low 35 points last week in the Lower State title game, but it was enough to beat Timmonsville and advance. Against a bigger St. Joseph's team, Toomer said a high-scoring game would be more ideal and would mean the smaller Jaguars team was forcing turnovers and scoring in transition.
"If we can see where we can take advantage of it without speeding up too much, we will," Toomer said. "But to combat their height and their size, quickness would be the thing."
Senior forward Brittany Richardson will be the Jaguars' counter to the Knights' height. She averaged 16 points and 11 rebounds in the regular season and was named Class 1-A all-state by the South Carolina Basketball Coaches Association. She injured her hip before the Lower State title game but said she has played through the pain when it gets aggravated.
Richardson said the Jaguars have not given in to the magnitude of the game. Excitement has been tempered by maintaining a routine in practice this week.
"We come in here, we shoot around, we stretch," Richardson said. "And then we get to work."
The court opens at Colonial Life Arena today two hours before the Class 1-A title game at 11:30 a.m. The Jaguars should have ample time to adjust to the big stage.
Each week has presented the Jaguars a bigger venue, including a trip to The Citadel's McAlister Field House for the Lower State title game. This is no different, Richardson said.
She planned to watch the video of last week's Upper State title game in preparation for today's game. She said she had not heard much about the Jaguars' opponent, except for the height.
Ridgeland assistant coach Trent Duncan said he watched the video so much there was finally no more he could learn from it. He said the Jaguars should be OK playing the way they have throughout the season.
That means defense first. It's fine with the Jaguars if they sound repetitive.
"We want to prove we're the best defensive team in the state," Duncan said.
2011 SCHSL CLASS 1-A GIRLS STATE BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
Who: Ridgeland vs. St. Joseph's
When: Today, 11:30 a.m.
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia
Online: Fans can watch a live stream of the game on www.schsl.tv.