When Carolyn Kelly announced her retirement as Liberty County girls basketball head coach after 23 years earlier this year, it was certainly an emotional night for all those she ever influenced.
As the saying goes, however, the show must go on, and the Lady Panthers are doing just that with new head coach Nicole Tazewell.
Tazewell was announced as the coach in August and now, the season has crept up on Liberty. The girls open the 2016-17 season on Saturday, when they face an old region foe, Jenkins High School, in Savannah.
A former Lady Panther herself, Tazwell said she is ready to take over the job at her alma mater and lead the team to success in her first year as a high school head coach.
"(I want to) develop a winning attitude this year," Tazewell said. "I want to help my young ladies improve as basketball players and gather a better understanding of the game."
The Panthers graduated only two seniors from the 2015-16 roster, but one of those players, Tia Fleming, was the only one to average double-digit points per game for the Lady Panthers last year. She nearly put double-doubles in all of her contests with 13.6 points and 9.4 rebounds.
Despite this, Tazewell knows that it is going to be a team effort if the Panthers are going to build off their 7-16 record from last season, when they also earned a berth in the AAAA state playoffs for the first time since 2011-12.
"All my players are key to the success this upcoming year," she explained.
Two of those players are seniors Jasmine Brooks and Alayanna Flanders. Brooks is the leading returning scorer for the Panthers as she averaged 7.5 points per contest last year. Flanders led the team with 9.9 rebounds per game.
The Panthers also are in unfamiliar territory this year as they have moved down from AAAA to AAA, and are playing against some new faces, such as Long County that was the No. 4 seed in the state playoffs out of Region 2-AA.
Tazewell said the Panthers need to show early in the season that they are ready to compete.
"We need to set the tone defensively in our new region," she said. "Compete at a high level every time we play and win ball games."
The Lady Panthers tip off their season at home Saturday against the Jenkins Warriors with the ball set to be tossed up at 6 p.m.