Lower Richland coach Debbie Stroman arose from her table and strolled toward the podium at Wednesday's South Carolina Basketball Association Preseason Banquet to the tune of thunderous applause. Her team is ranked atop the 3A preseason poll, so Stroman was asked to say a few words about the team and the future season.
But it's hard not to bring up the incredible success that her team has had in recent years.
During their first year in the state's 3A class, Lower Richland's girls won Region 4-3A with a 12-0 record in region play and finished last season with a 26-1 overall record that culminated with a fourth consecutive state championship. Led by senior guard Jasmine Harrison, the Diamond Hornets are shooting for their second consecutive 3A title this season.
"It's kind of funny because Jasmine (Harrison) is like the little sister left behind," Stroman said of her star point guard. "She's just that kid that you don't have to say a lot to. She plays with great intensity regardless if its practice or a game. She's going to be the floor leader for us, and she's won three state championships so she knows what it's like to win and be successful."
Harrison and forward Ashley Edmond are the returning starters for Lower Richland , so several inexperienced players will be counted on to learn the system quickly if the Diamond Hornets are to have continued success.
"I think we're going to have to develop some group chemistry with this younger team that we have for us to get that fifth consecutive state championship," Stroman said. "The experienced players that we have will have to step up and lead like our former players did while they were here for us to have the success that we've had the past four years."
Stroman, in her 18th year as the Lower Richland coach, expects she will have two players named Jasmine make an impact this year, even though one of them has yet to play a minute of varsity basketball.
"Jasmine Richardson is a great point guard that's coming from our middle school system," Stroman said. "I think she's going to break into our starting five before the season starts. She knows basketball but she's hungry to learn more and more each day."
Despite Richardson's inexperience, Stroman said the young guard has the confidence it takes to compete at a high level.
"(Richardson) told me, 'Coach I'm trying out for varsity, don't even consider me for the junior varsity team,'" Stroman recalls her freshman guard saying. "She's progressed very nicely and the other day she told me 'Coach, you know there's no rule about freshmen not starting, right?'"
With all the new, inexperienced players' eyes on her to lead the team on another title run, the elder "Jasmine" (Harrison) said her new role might take a little getting used to, but she's well equipped for the task.
"It's kind of weird being the one that the other girls look up to," Harrisonsaid. "I was in their position for the past three years, so I know what they're going through. I'm fortunate to have won three state championships already and I think that experience will help me become a better leader. It's going to be a challenge, but I'm ready for it."