YORK -- The York Comprehensive High School varsity basketball teams entertain Spartanburg Friday and South Pointe Tuesday as a prelude to the Region 3-AAAA opener Jan. 9 at Gaffney.
Both teams are striving for contender status as region play looms.
The Lady Cougars will face a Gaffney team sporting one of the best records in the Upstate.
"They are a much improved team," noted head coach Paula Blackwell. "It'll be gut-check time."
Blackwell said region play is a 10-game season to determine the league champion and state qualifiers.
"Our goal is to win the region and see what we can do in the playoffs," she said. "We've come close (to region title) the last four years."
Senior standout Ashley Barron, a leader on and off the court, has a special mindset for region games.
"We need to play every game like it's our last once we get into region play," she said. "As a senior, I know it's the last time I will be playing against our region opponents. It means a lot to me."
Barron said the Lady Cougars need to win enough region games so they don't have to depend on help from other teams to make the playoffs.
She said the post play has been steady this season.
Added Barron, "We play with confidence and intensity. Nobody has stopped us in the post this season."
Blackwell lauded the team's post play.
"Ashley and Tikierra (Anderson) have been dominant," she said. "Sophomore Aria Crawford has given us solid play off the bench."
Said Crawford of the team's strong bench play this season, "We play hard and push the starters in practice."
Crawford said Anderson has been her inspiration.
"Tikierra gets me going," she said.
Anderson and teammate Erika Shannon were named to the preseason all-region team.
Shannon said the Lady Cougars need to step up when region play begins at Gaffney.
"We need to play at our level and not let up, especially on defense," commented Shannon. "When we play defense like we're supposed to, we can play with anybody."
"It's been said that offense sells tickets and defense wins championships," she said. "Defense is the key for us as well as making adjustments in game situations."
Blackwell said the region is competitive from top to bottom this season.
"We have to be ready to play every night," she said. "We need four or five players in double figures and players contributing off the bench.
"Any team is capable of winning in region play."
Cougars want to host playoff game
YCHS boys' head coach Kendall McCarter said the Cougars continue to play a tough non-region schedule, including Friday's game with Spartanburg and the Tuesday game against South Pointe.
But region play is different, McCarter contends.
"Every game is important toward the goals we set," he said. "You have to fight for your life every night in the region."
The Cougars have been a force to contend with in non-region play.
Senior Ben Kennon, a 6-foot-6, 280 pound postman, is averaging 13 points and 11 rebounds per game.
Sophomores Brandon Hagins and Jerry Holmes have made their presence felt in a huge way.
Hagins is averaging 10 points and 13.5 rebounds and Holmes is averaging a team-high 21 points a game.
Kennon said a key to the team's success to this point has a lot to do with the post players communicating with the guards during games.
The burly post player said leadership doesn't always come from the seniors.
"Our playmakers help the inexperienced players develop their game," he noted.
Kennon believes the Cougars have what it take to make some noise in the region.
"We're bigger than most teams we play," he said. "If we hustle and play defense, we can win the region."
Kennon said he's playing with confidence and likes getting a lot of touches.
Holmes echoes his teammate's sentiments.
"We need to continue to play aggressive defense," the playmaking guard said. "We score points off of our defense."
Like his fellow teammates, Holmes is looking forward to region play.
Said Holmes, "We know the region is tough, but I feel we're ready for the challenge. As long as we play defense and rebound like we're supposed to, we'll be successful in the region."
After contributing to the team's success as a freshman, Holmes said he's playing with more confidence.
"I'm more focused than last year and have confidence in my jump shot," he said.
With region play one week away, Carter said the players must handle the mental aspect of the game.
"We have a very young team," he noted. The key is to win our home games in the region and try to steal one or two away from home.
"Home court advantage is huge in region play."
Concluded Carter, "We feel good about our chances in the region. Our goal is to finish in the top two and host a playoff game.
"We finished fourth the last two years and want something better this time."