Highlands girls varsity basketball team takes hard-fought loss in state playoffs

Editor’s Note: Plateau Daily News was unable to attend the Highlands girls varsity basketball team’s first round game of the N.C. High School playoffs against Gray Stone Day on Thursday. The pictures in this article are unpublished photos from throughout their season.

Highlands Kedra McCall and Blue Ridge Kaitlyn Stewart work for position to grab the rebound.

The Lady Highlanders left it all on the court playing on the road against Gray Stone Day in the first round of the N.C. High School playoffs on Thursday. The Lady Highlanders hung in there the majority of the game but lost to the Lady Knights 37-42.

Highlands trailed by 9 points going into halftime and didn’t gain momentum until the third quarter. Coming back onto the court after some inspiring words from Highlands Head Coach Jake Page at halftime, Highlands went on a tear scoring over 10 unanswered points.

“I thought the girls played very well,” said Page. “It was a slow first half, but we held them to 2 points in the third. We switched up our D and did a good job defending, but we couldn’t finish.”

Highlands Reese Schmitt moves the ball up the court against Cherokee.

As the basketball season comes to a close for Highlands, Page said he couldn’t ask for anything more from his players than what they gave throughout the season.

“I’m proud of the way they played,” he said. “They left it all on the floor every game.”

Highlands Kedra McCall scored 19 points on Thursday and said after they gained their modest lead in the second half, they couldn’t shut down the Lady Knights’ shooting.

“They kept hitting their shots and we couldn’t turn it around,” said McCall. “They’re a tough team but we stayed right with them and never gave up.”

McCall added that despite getting knocked out in the first round of the playoffs, she was proud they made it as far as they did.

“It’s an accomplishment to make it to state even if it’s the first round,” she said. “As the whole season developed, we came together as a team and never gave up, even at our lowest points. I think we did great.”

Highlands Chela Green tests the waters around the perimeter before driving to the inside against Cherokee.

Highlands Jordan Carrier said it was a disappointing loss, but she agrees with McCall and is looking ahead to next season.

“I think it was a good first year of transition for a new team with a new coach,” said Carrier. “I’m excited for our future.”

Highlands Hannah Holt lines up the free throw and drains it against Franklin.

Highlands senior Hannah Holt said they gave it their all against Gray Stone, but once they got on a roll in the second half, Gray Stone turned it up a notch in response.

“They’re momentum picked up when ours did, we never lost momentum, we never even slowed down,” said Holt. “I would have loved to have done better but I’m not upset that we lost because we played to the best of our ability the whole season.”

Holt ended her basketball career at Highlands School on Thursday and said it was bittersweet.

“It’s heart breaking honestly,” said Holt. “The countless number of hours and memories in the gym with teammates and coaches, I knew it was coming but it’s hard to say goodbye.”

Holt added that her coaches throughout her athletic career in Highlands have impacted her life in a variety of ways, referring to Coaches Brett Lamb, Jake Page, and Chrystal Gustin.

“I’m so thankful for each of them for taking their time molding me into the person I am today,” she said.

Highlands Abby Olvera drives to the hoop but dishes it off at the last second to the outside.

Highlands also loses senior Abby Olvera who said they played a good game against Gray Stone but things didn’t shake out in the end.

“We started getting fouls and forced our offense,” said Olvera. “Towards the end, we started losing momentum and they just kept hitting their shots. We really had to play smart to hang there.”

Olvera added that the season went well overall, especially during a period of transition with new coaches and players whom she will miss, but said her time at Highlands School was also special because of the fans.

“Playing in Highlands was amazing,” said Olvera. “The community as a whole is so welcoming and supportive, it creates an atmosphere you can’t find anywhere else. I’m very happy to end my (high school) athletic career here in Highlands.”

Highlands Jordan Carrier keeps the the pressure on Cherokee while Jeslyn Head cuts off any option to pass in the paint.

Page said Holt and Olvera are both exceptional athletes and great leaders.

“Losing both are critical,” said Page. “Both are leaders on and off the floor. They’re not the most vocal, but they lead by example. I’m so thankful for both of them and that I was lucky enough to coach them.”

McCall said Holt and Olvera will be missed tremendously, but is optimistic about the players returning next season.

“Our future is looking good,” she said. “We’ve got some strong freshman who have a lot of experience so they’re going to be huge assets. Plus, we have our coach (Page) for the second year, we’re comfortable with him and he’s comfortable with us.”

Highlands Julia May Schmitt dives to pick off a pass by Hayesville.

Page said having a young team with experience under their belt is going to pay off next year.

“We’ve got a lot of pieces coming back,” he said. “They need to work hard in the offseason and focus on their weaknesses. Hopefully we’ll get some summer camps going. We want to build off what we did this year and always keep moving forward.”

Article and photos by Brian O’Shea
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