The girls’ basketball team at South Side High School is a fun team to watch.
Head coach Brent McNeal and assistant coach Adrian Comer have built a solid program that the entire state acknowledges as one of the top programs in the state heading into the state tournament even if the Lady Hawks haven’t won a state championship yet.
And it’s not something that has happened overnight.
McNeal took over the program in the spring of 2011 at a time when the girls’ programs at Liberty Tech, Madison and North Side were all noticeably better – and that’s just speaking of the other public school programs in Jackson.
The Lady Hawks were in a tough league having to deal with the likes of Chester County, McNairy Central, Bolivar and Lexington in district play and taking a lot of lumps in the process.
But McNeal kept pushing his players, building the program, creating the culture, raising the standard and repeating the process over and over.
In 2017, the Lady Hawks achieved the goal of getting to the state tournament. It didn’t happen again until three years later when the state tournament was cut short because COVID-19 had gotten into Tennessee and TSSAA followed the example of college conferences and shut down its athletics for the rest of the school year.
The Lady Hawks made it back last year and made it to the state championship and fell short of the championship.
But they’re back this year.
From the looks of the players in any individual game, they’re not a group that is ready to rest on any laurels they’ve acquired.
When the Lady Hawks are up by 25 in the third quarter and it’s not quite early enough to take the starters out, McNeal and Comer are still coaching as if they’re down by three in the final minute.
The players they’ve pushed to play at their best at all times are trying to compete like they’re down by three with a minute left even if they’ve extended the lead so much that the clock is running without stopping because of the TSSAA’s mercy rule.
Senior guard Albany Collins has discussed earlier this year about how she and this entire team strives for perfection every time they’re on the court.
Miss Basketball finalist Ti’Mia Lawson said the day she was announced as a finalist for the award that she’s more worried about the team getting to Murfreesboro for the state tournament and winning three games before leaving.
Every player who was on the team last year remembers the experience of winning two games and coming close to a third only to come home with the silver ball. And while most teams across the state would love to put that silver ball in their trophy case, the Lady Hawks’ goals are a little loftier.
They enjoyed the experience of cutting down the net in their home gym on Saturday when they won their Class 3A sectional, but they know there’s another net to cut.
But even if they don’t get to that point and cut that net, the girls on this team have learned that there are no shortcuts to success.
It comes with hard work, consistently, a commitment to excellence and making smart choices.
If the team is missing any one of those things, they probably don’t go into the state tournament with an undefeated record if they even go into the state tournament at all.
Are they good enough to win three games this week? Yes. Does a loss this week diminish anything they’ve accomplished up to this point and make the season any less memorable? No.
But they won’t be satisfied without that gold ball.
Whether or not they get it this week, McNeal and Comer appear to have built a team of girls who are growing into young women who will be successful at whatever they choose to do in life because they’ve been taught what creates success.
Brandon Shields is the managing editor of The Jackson Post. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSEditorBrandon or Instagram @Editorbrandon.