The Oconee County girls basketball team’s record last season was deceptive.

The Lady Warriors only went 8-17. Their record in Region 8-AAA was even worse at 2-7.

But Oconee County was competitive more often than not. On the season, the Lady Warriors were outscored 1,082-910 – a difference of just 172 points.

That competitive nature was largely due to successful defense. This summer, the team kept up its defensive skill while also making big strides on offense.

The result was a dominant run through numerous scrimmage games held in June.

Oconee County went 10-0 in a camp held at Furman University then went 2-4 in games held at Winder-Barrow High School. The Lady Warriors finished up summer competition with a 2-1 record across a three-day showcase at Athens Academy.

Philip Manning, head coach of the Lady Warriors, said the team reached peak performance early during the games at Furman. That’s when Manning saw his offense click.

“I think the girls are just more familiar with offense now,” Manning said. “I think they're more comfortable with where they're supposed to be and where their teammates are gonna be. They're able to get into a little bit better rhythm. We've got several girls who have put in a lot of work putting up more shots. Repetition and practice in the offseason has helped.”

In addition to the practice reps, Manning said he thinks the more normalized offseason helped the offense improve. Last year, the team could not practice together due to COVID-19 limitations. Those limitations extended into the regular season, where the lineup was subject to change any given night, further hampering the team chemistry.

The Lady Warriors took advantage of this year’s looser guidelines.

They began practice the day school was out for the summer. There was an unusual dead week enforced by the Georgia High School Association at the beginning of June but, afterward, Oconee’s team was back to work.

Oconee competed hard during what Manning characterized as “a very intense stretch” of scrimmage games. Those games gave the team a chance to implement their new defensive strategy.

At the beginning of the summer schedule, Manning shifted the defensive philosophy from zone to man-to-man. Manning said the players quickly took to their new assignments.

“We've been in a matchup zone for a few years and I'm more of a man-to-man-style coach,” he said. The first practice this summer, I told the girls we were playing man-to-man all summer. ... The few practices we had, they really bought in and really had some good practices where we just got after it.”

As the team shook off the early-summer rust, there were a few moments where the Lady Warriors struggled hitting shots.

That’s when Manning saw his players lean on their defensive prowess to keep themselves in the game.

“The first couple of games at Furman, our offense wasn't really where we wanted it to be but the defense was so intense that we maybe allowed 6 points one game and maybe 8 points the next,” Manning said. “I think once they saw even when we were off a little bit offensively that defense could win for us, that's when things started clicking for us. They really started buying into the system from there.”

The Lady Warriors will return a considerable amount of experienced players for the upcoming season.

When they tip off in the fall, they will do so having only lost three seniors from last year’s squad. They will also have greater experience thanks to this summer’s work.

Manning said he feels good about the progress his team made during the summer and he hopes it will continue when it’s time to get the regular season started this fall.

“We're happy with the success we had this summer but the games aren't official,” he said. “Once the season starts, nobody cares whether you won every game or lost every game during the summer because, at the end of the day, it's about the season. We're continuing our weight training program, just making sure our girls are staying after it in the weight room. ... We're just making sure the girls continue to have fun with what we're doing.”

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