The last time Westside was in Charleston, 2014, the Lady Renegades topped off a run to their third straight Class AA championship game with their second title in three years.
Now that the long drought is over, Westside hopes for a run similar to those, but the road to do so won't be easy.
"So far we've went into it like it's a business trip," Westside head coach Darren Thomas said. "The girls are having fun, we practiced before we left, but we know what's at stake."
Entering the Class AA field as the No. 7 seed, the Renegades will draw No. 2 Winfield, a team that hasn't been to Charleston since 2017 but has serious championship aspirations. Their quarterfinal game will tip off Wednesday at 1 p.m. at the Charleston Coliseum.
"They're tough," Thomas said. "They've got five kids that are almost interchangeable regardless of where they're at on the floor. They've got two twin sisters (Emily and Lauren Hudson) who are 5-11 and 6-foot. They can play any position on the floor, and of course (Z.Z.) Russell is the point guard and can do anything. They are athletic at every position."
Beating the Lady Generals won't be an easy task. Because of their athleticism they're able to generate a lot of turnovers, resulting in easy buckets.
"From what I've seen and heard they're a full court press and deny the inbounds pass type of team," Thomas said. "Strictly man-to-man defense and they cause a lot of problems with that. They don't necessarily shoot as well but they get a lot of points off turnovers, which means a lot of layup opportunities for easy points. Our main point of emphasis is we've got to take care of the ball."
For the Lady Renegades, their strength lies in their ability to shoot the ball well and score in transition. Historically, because of the nature of the Charleston Coliseum — open venue, no back walls, etc. — shooting teams have struggled, with the combined overall shooting percentage from last year's tournament coming out to 33.3 percent.
Despite that, Thomas feels confident in his team's abilities.
"There's no need to change this time of year," Thomas said. "The hard part is getting here and we want to ride what got us here. We'll obviously take what we can get, but shooting and getting good shots in transition has worked for us all year."
Though the Lady Renegades are a veteran team featuring eight seniors, the state tournament is again a new experience for them and nerves naturally play a large part. Fortunately they have experience on the bench.
Thomas was an assistant coach for the 1991 Baileysville team that finished as the state runner-up, as well as the 2012-14 Westside teams. His assistant coach, Alisha Brown, was also a player on the '91 Baileysville team. With the experience, he's tried to prepare his team for what to expect.
"Nerves are going to play a role," Thomas said. "I don't care how much of a veteran team you have. Even as a coach you get nervous. We've got to adapt to it. I've just tried to stress to them that the hard part's over. Now that you're here it's time for fun. You've just got to be relaxed and be ready to adjust to everything you see there. There's going to be runs, but at the end of the day it's all basketball and if we can settle in and adjust, I think we'll be OK."
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