At this point last season, the rollercoaster that was Henry County boys basketball began its rapid descent into discontent.
The Warhawks were 9-5 overall, 4-3 in Region 4-AA and ostensibly blending savvy veterans with talented youth. The state tournament was well within sight. The only question was how far could they ride in the playoffs.
Except those savvy veterans and talented youth weren't blending together as much as they were winning on shear talent. They learned that the hard way once the losses began to mount, eight in a row that jeopardized a promising season.
"The team chemistry wasn't there," Henry County senior Larrentis Thomas said. "A lot of people were quitting. We were losing to teams that we should've been beating."
Everyone enjoys the smooth moments of a rollercoaster.
Not everyone can handle when it drops.
Remarkably, the Warhawks' rollercoaster that season wasn't over. They rebounded just in time, reeling off four wins to capture a region championship and advanced to the Class AA quarterfinals before losing to Thomasville.
"At the region tournament, we just got mad that we were losing," Thomas said. "We felt disappointed. We picked it up at the end of the season."
There will be no rollercoaster this time for the Warhawks, no chemistry issues that lead to prolonged slumps, no last-gasp run of remarkable basketball to save their season.
Henry County has virtually every ingredient necessary to sustain its success this season. It has a frenetic pressure defense that overwhelms opponents. It has dynamic scorers in Dontavious Bega and Thomas who on any night can take control of a game. It has a tough inside presence in 6-foot-6 sophomore Dray Soulder and a deep bench of reserves.
But the seventh-ranked Warhawks now have the one ingredient it sorely missed a season ago: Chemistry.
"We're learning how to play with one another and not be selfish on the court," Thomas said. "On this team, everybody's focused. We want one thing, and that's to win."
That chemistry was on full display in the Warhawks' dismantling of rival Eagle's Landing on Tuesday. Henry County got scoring contributions from 11 different players. Six different players combined to make 12 steals. Thomas had a typically dominant performance — 28 points and 16 rebounds — but he also had four of the Warhawks' 10 assists.
The win improved Henry County to 12-3 overall and kept it just a game ahead for first place in Region 4-AAA at 7-1. The Warhawks will certainly get tested again Drew, Spalding and Stockbridge, who handed Henry County its only region loss.
But when those tests come, the Warhawks have last season to remind them of the horrors a rollercoaster season can take.
"That's what's keeping up going now," Thomas said, "is just thinking about last year and how far we got and far we could've got."
Brian Paglia covers sports for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Da.