If the early going is any indication, Faye Norris and her North Augusta girls' team is going to surprise a lot of folks in Region 3-AAAA.
The Lady Yellow Jackets are 2-3 playing a rugged nonregion schedule. The team played tough in losses to defending Class AAA state champion Richmond Academy and defending Class AAA state runner-up Josey.
The team also has a nonregion date with Butler and a meeting with Class AAAA No. 3 Cedar Shoals in the inaugural Ladies Hoops Night Out Classic set for Dec. 26-27 at Richmond Academy.
Coach Norris said without question these games will prepare her team well for the Region 3-AAAA wars. The top four teams in the region make the playoffs.
"We are not going to see any better competition than what we have seen in Augusta/Richmond County," Norris said.
The Yellow Jackets have senior leadership at the guard positions, with Tiffany Isaac and Stacy Morris. Isaac, a 5-foot-7, 130-pounder, returns after tearing her anterior cruciate ligament last season while Morris is a deadly three-point shooter.
She scored 22 points, nailing six 3-pointers, in a loss to Josey in the Ladies Hoop Classic.
Sophomores Pam Butler and Melissa Presnell give the team a scoring punch in the post.
"I think we are going to improve our standings this year," Norris said. "We have senior guards, and our sophomores are ready to step up. Tiffany is going to bring leadership to the floor and that's what I'm looking for."
Junior point guard Holli Dixon and sophomore point guard Jennifer Justice will lead South Aiken and Aiken, respectively, in the Region 3-AAAA wars. Defending champion Orangeburg-Wilkinson is the region favorite.
The South Carolina area's top two players, Batesburg-Leesville's Sharon Baston and Wardlaw's Nancy Derrick, will attempt to lead their teams to state titles.
Baston averaged more than 24 points a game as a sophomore, as the Panthers won the Region 5-AA title and advanced to the Class AA Lower State semifinals before losing to eventual Class AA state runner-up Wade Hampton.
Senior guard Gwen Shealy returns to give the Panthers a formidable backcourt.
Derrick, the area's co-Player of the Year as a freshman, hopes to lead Wardlaw to another South Carolina Independent Schools' Association Class A title. The 5-foot-8 guard averaged 30.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 7.5 steals to help Wardlaw go 26-0 and win the independent state title.
Katey Satcher leads Strom Thurmond's charge in Region 4-AAA. The Rebel standout averaged more than 17 points a game as a junior.
Silver Bluff, Barnwell and Allendale-Fairfax are fighting it out for second place in Region 6-AA behind Wade Hampton, which returns four starters from a team that advanced to the Class AA state championship game last year. Junior Erica Green and sophomore LaKeisha Bates will lead Silver Bluff, while Alicia Davis sparks Barnwell.
Dee Tyler and Nicole Harrison will lead Wagener-Salley in Region 5-A. Tyler averaged 14 points and 14 rebounds a game as a junior. Blackville-Hilda will be led by Necole Thomas, Tameka Cave and Pam Calhoun, who are three of the team's four returning starters from last season.
Defending Class A state champion Estill is the team Blackville-Hilda and Wagener-Salley will chase for the region title.