By Doug Gorman
When the Jonesboro Lady Cardinals knocked off Lowndes last week in the first round of the Class AAAAA state tournament, there wasn't too much celebration or emotion pouring from the team's locker room.
Instead, the Lady Cardinals took a very business-like approach to the 62-29 blowout of Lowdnes.
After all, first-round wins are nothing new to members of this team. The Lady Cardinals have posted first-round victories in the state tournament the last two years.
"I was expecting a lot of high-fives and celebrating," said Jonesboro head coach John Kovzel. "Then they reminded me that they had been here before."
Kovzel praises that matter-of-fact attitude from his team.
"They hate to lose," he said. "They take the game very seriously."
According to Kovzel, the Lady Cardinals have arrived at the second round of the state due to hard work that started long before the first jump ball of the season.
"This group of players worked very hard in the summer," he said.
The dedication and work ethic explains why the Lady Cardinals have set a school record for wins and are 25-4 heading into Friday night's 7 p.m. kickoff against No. 5-ranked Carver Columbus at the Macon Coliseum.
"We want this to continue," said junior Sheena Brown. We are young and coming back next season, but we want to win it all this year."
The Lady Cardinals sprinted to a 12-0 record at the beginning of the season, then hit the skids midway through campaign.
At one point in the season, Jonesboro's fast track to the region title went into a tailspin as the team dropped three of four games.
The low point was a loss at Mt. Zion.
"That really served as a wakeup call for us," said Shade' Smith. "We knew then we could be beat."
Jonesboro fixed its problems and officially sealed the regular-season region title with a win at Westside-Macon.
The Lady Cardinals then waltzed through the Region 2-AAAAA tournament, winning the event with 61-52 victory against Houston County.
Kovzel missed the game because of the birth of a child the night before, but the squad didn't miss a beat.
The victory in the tournament championship even with their coach not on the sidelines proved very little can faze the Lady Cardinals.
Throughout the season the team has bounced back from adversity. Right after Christmas, Jonesboro lost inside specialist and shot blocker Jasmine Duffey to an eye injury and some thought the Lady Cardinals' hopes for making the tournament would fly out the window.
Although Duffey returned for the region tournament, the squad did fine without her.
"We don't get a lot of respect," said Kovzel. "We don't like to talk about who we don't have or haven't had. The players we have put out there have done a great job."
The Lady Cardinals' confidence is building.
Kala Smith is only a sophomore but isn't rattled by the state tournament experience.
"My teammates have told me to just stay calm, execute the plays and stay out of foul trouble," she said.
Kovzel knows his team faces one of its biggest challenges of the year. Carver-Columbus is 28-2 with its only two losses coming against Riverdale, including an overtime loss in the Region 4-AAAAA tournament.
One Carver player has signed with Clemson and one has signed with Notre Dame.
"They like to penetrate and drive into the lane, but they will also kick it out for the 3-point shot," said Kovzel. "We will have to be at our best."