When Shining Mountain Waldorf girls basketball coach Mike Hawkes looks at what his team is capable of this season, it's hard to not think about how last year ended.
A 43-30 loss to Idalia prevented the Lions from advancing to its first state tournament in program history. After going 17-5 to that point, the sixth loss of the year turned out to be a season ender for Shining Mountain.
"That one stuck with us for a while," Hawkes said. "Looking back at the stats on that game, I feel that we played a really good game and we just had a difficult time scoring. I think a lot about that one for these girls."
These girls are ready to put that one way in the rear-view mirror. The Lions are putting together a solid 2019-20 and have ambitions of getting that elusive state tournament berth.
It isn't the team with the most depth, but it's a team that uses the talents of all of its players to score more than 43 points and pull down over 26 rebounds per game.
"They talk about it at almost every practice that they have really come together in a way that's not ever happened before," Hawkes said. "They're really close with one another and while they push one another, they really work hard for one another, too."
That shows with the results on the court. Lola Conaway has become a bit of a catalyst in that regard. She leads the team in scoring with 12.7 points per game.
But that's not the only way in which she leads. Her mindset and her work ethic is paramount to what the Lions are trying to accomplish this year. Results don't come on their own and Conaway is a living breathing example of that.
"I think last year I think she was a little bit frustrated with her own play," Hawkes said. "She really worked hard in the offseason and has come in and just had a very steady mindset and emotionally she's just been kind of the rock of this team."
And sets a good example in the process. On the seven-player roster listed on MaxPreps, Conaway is the only senior on the team. Her support system consists of two juniors, two sophomores and two freshmen.
Sophomore Kalea Zeender is giving the team a lot of hope for future as she averages 10.3 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. Her contributions play right into what Conaway is able to do for the team and as just a sophomore she can look toward the senior when it comes to developing and maintaining a team-first mindset.
"She's a great athlete and has tons and tons of upward potential," Hawkes said. "Being able to look at the upperclassmen like Lola and see how they kind of settle down into the game I think is key for her."
The Lions are set to conclude their regular season in less than two weeks before moving into districts and regionals. Hopefully those roads will lead to the program's first state tournament berth.
Currently, Shining Mountain sits at No. 6 in the Class 1A CHSAANow.com coaches poll and No. 1 in the RPI rating.
But championships can't be won through polls. What Hawkes knows and sees on a daily basis is these girls don't just have the talent to win, they have the drive and the passion for the game that makes any team dangerous come playoff time.
"My two juniors and my two sophomores have been all-in since they were in sixth grade," Hawkes said. "They have, they put in so much work behind the scenes and they are the kids that you almost have to chase out of the gym. It's been a swing in the program to see them put in that kind of work consistently and inspire the younger girls."