TIFTON — Court has been in session at Tift County High. That is, the basketball court.
Head coach Julie Conner’s Tift County Lady Devils are prepping towards the upcoming season with activities both home and away.
Last year, the Lady Devils finished second in Region 1-AAAAAAA for the second straight year. Both times they had to win a play-in game to make state, then pulled a semifinals upset to advance to the finals. They’ve been to state nine straight seasons.
It’s been a busy June for Tift. Players helped out with Conner’s Lil’ Devils basketball camp, then went to their own camp in Florida last weekend.
“We’re playing some really good competition,” said Conner before the trip.
Earlier in the month, they went to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp in Tennessee. “That was a good camp,” she said. Both varsity and junior varsity went north. Only varsity went south over the weekend.
While divided for that particular camp, they’ve been together for the summer. The gang’s all here and most importantly - knock on wood - the gang is currently all healthy.
Three of Conner’s projected starters for 2019-20 missed significant time last year. Right now, she has Jamia Level, Nicky Jones, San Graddic, Shakiria Chaney and Cali Conner as the starting five. Jones will probably handle point guard duties. Graddic has experience at the point as well.
Jones, Graddic and Level are seniors. Conner is a junior, Chaney a sophomore. While the youngest starter, Chaney has already made a big impact. She was the team’s second leading scorer a year ago and, at 219 points, seems well on her way to scoring 1,000 for her career.
Level and Jones are longtime starters. Both are beginning to receive college attention. Cali Conner tore her ACL last summer, but was able to come back in January. Her efforts earned Co-Defensive Player of the Year in Region 1. Level and Chaney were first and second team all-region, respectively, in 2019. Jones is a previous first team selection.
Tift will be senior-laden, according to their head coach. Conner said she has seven of them. Besides Graddic, Jones and Level are Heather Wells, Tamari Way, Annah Daniel and Trinity Fields. There are fewer juniors, only Conner and Shavonna Morris.
Youth in the lineup includes Chaney, Jaziah Johnson and Oashia Cushion. Cushion is a heralded freshman.
The Florida camp was the last major activity for the squad in June.
“They’re all doing a lot in July,” said Conner, adding she “didn’t want to wear them out in June.” A handful of players participate in volleyball, which is a fall sport.