2016-12-24 / Sports

New, high expectations for Person girls as it looks to defend its classic title *

The Person High School girls’ basketball team still has last year’s Gazette- Virginian Holiday Classic championship trophy in the locker room.

The girls who were on the team, including the three seniors who walked to half-court to accept the trophy still have the memories.

But in the mind of coach Jay Carmichael, the asterisk is also still present.

The Rockets were forced to forfeit the team’s opening round victory to Tunstall (Va.) after two JV players participated in the varsity game in South Boston, Va., just a couple of hours after competing with the JV team in Greensboro.

Person cruised to an easy win against Tunstall and would have done so even if the JV players wouldn’t have crossed the state line and played in the varsity game. Carmichael, then in his second year leading the Rockets, said he made a “dumb mistake” in playing the JV girls and inadvertently violating a North Carolina High School Athletic Association participation rule. He said it didn’t even occur to him that there was a problem until Person athletic director Mark Phillips said something to him following the Tunstall game.

Person’s Octavia Thompson prepares to block a shot from Northwood’s Kadie Snipes during Wednesday’s game. 
KELLY SNOW | COURIER-TIMES Person’s Octavia Thompson prepares to block a shot from Northwood’s Kadie Snipes during Wednesday’s game. KELLY SNOW | COURIER-TIMES It’s a mistake that still bothers the Rockets’ coach, but didn’t cost them the tournament title.

No one asked that they returned the trophy in the weeks following their 69-43 rout of Gretna (Va.) in the finals and The Gazette-Virginian, the sponsor of the classic referred to Person as the defending champion in a recent story.

But still, Carmichael and his girls have a healthy-sized chip on their collective shoulders heading into next week.

“We won the tournament, but technically we didn’t win the tournament,” Carmichael said. “The way we see it, we feel like we have something to prove. It was a technicality, but that wasn’t the reason we won. We still would have won the tournament had I not played (the JV players). We beat (Tunstall) by a whole lot of points and they didn’t play in the championship. This gives us more incentive because we want to win it this year fair-and-square and make a statement while we’re doing it.”

This year’s version of the Rockets have made their share of statements already.

They’re entering the holidays with a 7-4 record. The Rockets haven’t had seven wins before Christmas since the 2013-14 season — but didn’t win another game.

This year’s group has six key underclassmen and has already accomplished one goal that was practically unheard of for this program — win a PAC-6 game.

The Rockets snapped a 55-game PAC-6 losing streak when they knocked off East Chapel Hill a little over a week ago.

They followed that with a win at Northern Durham and are 2-1 in PAC-6 play and had a solid performance in a losing effort against a traditionally strong Northwood team Wednesday.

According to Carmichael, the culture is changing and a lot of that comes from a different attitude and competitive spirit with his team.

“We have players who are young but coming into a program that’s already in place and there’s more buyin,” Carmichael said. “We have talent, not to say we haven’t in years past, but we have players who are able to do different things and they’re tough and fight all the way to the end.”

The Rockets enter next week’s tournament as the overwhelming favorite after sweeping the homeand home series with Halifax already. Person could potentially meet up with Comets for a third time if each wins their opening round games.

Carmichael freely admits that he doesn’t know how he or his team will handle these new high expectations, but loves that this a new problem.

“I’m expecting we’ll be rejuvenated and ready to go and for us to be a confident team,” Carmichael said. “My expectation for us is to go make a statement and prove that we’re not same team we’ve been in years past.”

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