The Aiken High girls basketball team expected to have an up-and-down season because of its youth. The task for coach Aubrey Pompey was to finish on the up.
The Hornets started two freshmen most of the season and lost several close games early in the year.
Pompey never gave up on his young squad and kept morale positive, breeding a confidence that led to Aiken's unlikely run to the elite eight of the Class AAAA state tournament. Pompey has been named The Augusta Chronicle's All-Area South Carolina Girls Coach of the Year.
"He knew we were a great team," said senior point guard Audrey Timmerman, who played four seasons for Pompey. "He always told us how great we were and that we just had to give it time. We did, and we were successful in the playoffs."
Aiken played a difficult early schedule that included Lower Richland, Dutch Fork and Josey. The Hornets took their bumps to start the season 7-9.
"We were under .500 most of the year, but even though the record didn't show it, we were a better team than we were playing," Pompey said. "We had a mixture of young and old, and I knew at some point in the season the chemistry would come together."
The team slowly built that chemistry and gained experience to go 6-4 in Region 4-AAAA and pick up the final playoff seed. In region play, Orangeburg-Wilkinson and North Augusta - the teams that tied for first place, each fell to Aiken.
"Once we got it going inside with BreeAna Perry and Shalisa Blocker, we turned things around and started causing problems for other teams," Pompey said. "It took a while to get that together.
"At some points I might have done some things to slow down their development, maybe pushing too hard," he added. "It's just something that has to take its course."
Pompey said the Feb. 7 victory over North Augusta spurred his team to its season-ending run.
Aiken began the playoffs with an 11-13 record but went to Rock Hill and won in the first round. Then the Hornets went to Greenwood and won.
"It takes time to grow, and once we made the playoffs I think (the younger players) saw how much it meant for the seniors," Timmerman said.
Facing North Augusta in the quarterfinals, Aiken led by four with a minute to go but lost narrowly. It capped a 13-13 season, one with an unpredictable turnaround.
"I wish I could have prepared them a little bit better," Pompey said of his 18th team at Aiken. "But I can't say enough about how they came together and the effort they made."
Reach Steve Sanders at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.