CONYERS - It's two days prior to tipoff on a late Thursday afternoon, and the Heritage girls basketball team is hard at work in the gym.
Led by coach Dave LaBarrie, it is a systematic practice, focusing on everything from attacking the full-court press to setting screens and rolling out to communicating on a continual basis.
It is these types of performances that helped the Lady Patriots to a 19-9 overall record last year and a second-place finish in Region 8-AAAA (10-3).
"I wish we had more time," LaBarrie admitted. "(Georgia High School Association) has been taking away time from us. We used to have more time to prepare. Now, we have to be ready to play in two to three weeks, and that takes away a whole lot."
Despite the graduation of three starters, Heritage has reloaded, and players such as Sarah Herrington, Jasmine Middlebrooks and Zaneta Gray are prepared to fill those gaps.
Led by Herrington - who averaged 14 points per game last year - each of the aforementioned players was selected to the 2007-08 All-Area girls basketball team.
"I think we've got some ways to go, but I like the team and they like each other, so that's a big plus right there," LaBarrie said. "That's a good thing to have on a basketball team."
In a region riddled with talent, the Lady Patriots will have to clamp down on defense in order to make a serious run like they did last season.
"Defensively, I'm kind of concerned," LaBarrie said. "I don't think that we are really playing good defense yet."
According to LaBarrie, there are roughly five region opponents he is concerned with, starting with Madison County and crosstown rival Salem.
Yet LaBarrie's goal for this particular 2008-09 team remains the same.
"To win the state championship," he said with a smile.
Jason Murdock can be reached at email@example.com.
SideBar: At a glance
Who: Heritage Girls Basketball
Coach: Dave LaBarrie (third year)
Last year: 19-9 overall, 10-3 Region 8-AAAA
First game: 7 p.m. Saturday at Jefferson in Jefferson Tournament
Key returning players: Sarah Herrington, Jasmine Middlebrooks and Zaneta Gray