The moment has finally arrived.
After more than three months of patience and waiting, the Georgia Highlands College Lady Chargers inaugurate their 2021 season Thursday at Chipola College in Florida, part of a two-game weekend.
The goal is simple. Make it all the way to the conference championship game. From there, the Lady Chargers would be on to the national tournament.
But long before those events, head coach Brandan Harrell’s excitement stems from the simple fact Georgia Highlands is getting to play basketball.
“One of the biggest challenges for us was just getting to this point,” Harrell said in a phone interview. “I’m going to try to make sure our kids appreciate every game a little bit more, enjoy the ride (and) enjoy the process. We’re going to try to play fast. It will be fun to watch.”
GHC’s women’s roster will feature 11 players.
Harrell said for the first time in his 17 years coaching, coaches were allowed to bring in players over the winter break in order to fulfill roster requirements.
Harrell was able to bring in three new players to the Lady Chargers.
Rasheka Simmons arrives at GHC from Central Georgia Tech. Harrell said she plays most guard, but can also play forward.
“She has that year of experience, which is invaluable,” Harrell said. “She understands what it takes to win and be successful consistently.”
The two other players joining the Lady Chargers are sisters, Jada and Jemeah Alston. While Harrell said his lineup is a smaller one height-wise, the team makes up for that in speed.
“It turns out they’re pretty darn good basketball players, but they were both in college on track scholarships,” Harrell said. “They’re super athletic, super fast. With the style we’re going to have to try to play this year just with our size limitations, they actually fit in to what we want to do offensively and defensively.”
Additionally, Harrell said three starters will be returning from last year: ShaoTung “Sandra” Lin, Alexadria Shishkina and O’Mariyah Tucker.
“We’re very excited about (them),” Harrell said regarding his returners. “We think they’re going to do extremely well for us.”
Lin hails from Taipei, Taiwan, and started every game at point guard for the Lady Chargers last year.
“Super crafty, super intelligent player,” Harrell said. “Plays hard all the time.”
Shishkina, who is from Moscow, Russia, goes by her American name “Sasha” and plays guard.
“She shoots (the ball) really well,” Harrell said. “Her and Sandra are both just prototypical student athletes.”
Tucker has become a leader figure for the team, as her head coach noted the younger players will come to her if they have questions.
“She’s really, really put in a lot of work to improve her skill,” Harrell said. “She shoots the ball well from the perimeter. I’m really excited to see how she grows and develops.”
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, GHC’s traditional schedule has been thrown off. The first date of practice would have been Oct. 1. Around one month later, the Lady Chargers would be tipping off their season.
Harrell noted one of the unique challenges to the 2021 season is the unknown, explaining one day the Lady Chargers could be playing, and the next day, a quarantine could halt their season.
“It’s one of those things where just navigating the unknown and we tell our kids we’re going to go play like it’s our last game of the year because it could be,” Harrell said. “I think that’s tough mentally for all of us.”
Now, all that has bore witness to the morphing of a traditional fall and winter sport into a spring sport.
“For us going through the entire fall semester knowing that we would not play until the middle-end of January, we thought that would be much more difficult to keep our kids focused,” Harrell said. “That part wasn’t as difficult as we anticipated it might be, but certainly challenging. I thought our kids did a really good job of handling that mentally.”
Harrell said he’s most excited about getting the opportunity to play, as there are no absolute guarantees of future games.
“Our kids understand how difficult this is,” Harrell said. “We want them just to enjoy it. Go out, enjoy it, play as hard as you can and let’s enjoy the time that we have playing.”
Georgia Highlands will allow fans at home games, but capacity will be capped at 25%, around 250 fans.
All patrons will be required to have their temperature checked at the door, masks and social distancing will be mandatory.
Tickets at the gate cost $5 for everyone 5 years and older. Children under the age of 5 are admitted free of charge. All GHC students and faculty get in free with their college ID.