Friday April 29th, 2016 7:39PM

Lady Vikings confidence rises as competition toughens

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
RABBITTOWN -- East Hall freshman point guard Jasmine Jenkins sat answering a reporter's questions about the playoffs on Monday, talking about the ease of the Lady Vikings first-round victory last week and the tasks ahead in round two.

"We played really good against Elbert County," Jenkins said of her team's 64-45 defeat of the Blue Devils. "It turned out to be an easy win; hopefully we can do the same tomorrow -- if we play with the same intensity."

"They aren't all easy," East Hall coach Joey Rider interjected from behind Jenkins.

But you get the feeling talking to Jenkins and her teammates that the game of basketball, at least, is coming pretty easy these days.

The Lady Vikings certainly seem to be enjoying themselves during this playoff run, and they hope to keep it going today in Atlanta against Dunwoody. The Lady Vikings (22-7) face the Lady Wildcats (20-8) at 6 p.m. for the right to go to the Class AAA quarterfinals this weekend at the Northwest Georgia Trade Center in Dalton.

And East Hall believes it has a good shot to advance.

"Last week gave us a lot of confidence," Jenkins said.

"I think we can go all the way," senior post Symone Hampton noted. "If we bring the intensity and go as hard as we can, we have the team to do it."

Rider knows he can count on that type of drive and determination from up and down the line-up -- even from freshmen like Jenkins.

"She's not your average freshman," Rider said. "She's a tremendous competitor. She can put the nerves aside just because she wants to win so bad."

Looking like anything other than a first-year varsity player, Jenkins helped spark East Hall's first-round rout of Elbert, scoring 14 points, while adding five assists, three steals, and four rebounds.

"Last week was her 30th game though," Rider said. "That's more than some juniors and seniors can say they've played in."

Rider had a feeling Jenkins -- along with fellow freshman Morgan Jackson -- might be one of those types of freshmen who forced her way into more than the peripheral role underclassmen usually play.

But he never thought she'd be this good this fast -- Jenkins leads the team in points per game, 9.5, assists per game, 2.4, and minutes played, 19.1, on a deep and talented squad.

"Both her and Morgan worked so hard in the offseason before they got here that they had improved so much," Rider said. "You don't expect someone to get that good that fast."

Jenkins has taken it in stride, however, and says she's just enjoying the ride.

"It's a great privilege to be given a part this great on a team as a freshman," she said.

Yet Jenkins isn't alone in raising her game, and, after graduating four starters from last year's second-round playoff team, a number of relatively inexperienced upperclassmen have also raised their game this season.

"We've got seniors that hadn't had much playing time the past three years," said Hampton, one of those five. "But we had to step it up."

That hasn't been much of a problem for the Lady Vikings -- second seed from Region 7-AAA -- or Hampton, who scored a game-high 18 last week and is second on the team with 8.8 point per game and is first with 4.4 rebounds per game.

In fact, East Hall has had enough players step up that the Lady Vikings currently go at least 10 deep.

"We have a lot of quality depth," Rider said. "A lot of time, if you're still playing 10 kids this time of year, you're just buying minutes for your starters. That's not the case for us. All of our 10 kids have the qualities of a starter."

Rider hopes that depth will help push East Hall past Dunwoody on Tuesday.

"We're going to try and push them and make them play faster than they want to," Rider said. "But we also have the versatility to play a slower game. We have a lot of kids that can score, and that makes us hard to guard."

So does a competitive desire, and Rider says his squad also has that in quantity -- especially in its rising freshman leader.

"All of our girls are going to go hard," he said. "And if you're not going to go hard every play, Jasmine will just go right by you."



TIP TIME: 6 p.m.

RECORDS: East Hall 22-7 (defeated Elbert Co. 64-45 in the first round); Dunwoody 20-8 (defeated Central, Carroll 58-34 in the first round).

KEY PLAYERS: East Hall, Jasmine Jenkins (Fr. Guard, 9.5 ppg), Symone Hampton (Sr. forward, 8.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg) Morgan Jackson (Fr. guard/forward, 7.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg); Dunwoody, Kristin Nash (Sr. point guard), Madeline Teissler (Sr. 6-foot-2 center).

MAKE OR BREAK: East Hall will try to speed up the tempo against a more deliberate Dunwoody on Tuesday. The Lady Wildcats rely on senior point guard Kristin Nash to set the offense, penetrate on the dribble and dish to a wide-open teammate -- often the towering Madeline Teissler, a 6-foot-2 senior center. "We have to keep [Nash] from getting in the lane," Lady Vikings coach Joey Rider said. "Otherwise it's going to be hard to rebound against Teissler." Rider also notes that his team will be helped by scoring points off forced turnovers and strong perimeter shooting. "They play well defensively," Rider said. "They usually sit in a 2-3 zone and match-up with you. They try to keep you out of the paint and keep a hand in your face." Should Dunwoody succeed in slowing the game down, East Hall still feels it has the versatility to play a more half-court set, featuring a number of athletic posts and a rising star freshman point guard in Jasmine Jenkins. ... This game will be a rematch of last year's first-round game in Atlanta -- which East Hall won. "The girls that were on the team saw that last year and can draw some confidence from that," Rider said. "We feel like we can win. But all of the teams left are tough, and this one is going to be tough."
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