Crystal Cummings walks by the state championship trophy at North Augusta and is hit by a sense of reality.
"We put the trophy in the case the other day and I walk past it and look at it, and it's just kind of still surreal that we actually did that," Cummings said. "But it's definitely a reality now."
After losing the state semifinals by two points the year prior, and returning its core group of players, North Augusta entered the 2016-17 season with a definite target on its back.
For her efforts in guiding the Lady Yellow Jackets to perfection, including their first state title, Cummings is The Augusta Chronicle's All-Area South Carolina Girls Basketball Coach of the Year.
North Augusta will hang its first ever girls basketball state championship banner thanks to a multitude of factors, one of which was Cummings' ability to keep the girls focused daily through the grind of an undefeated record. They ended with a 28-0 mark and dominated all four playoff opponents.
A 61-37 victory over Wilson in the Class AAAA state championship March 4 at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia was the clincher. If there was any further doubt as to North Augusta's legitimacy as a statewide power, it was erased when the Lady Yellow Jackets controlled the title game from the opening tip.
"The model coming in, because we knew we had a target on our back and we were returning everybody from last year, was taking it one game at a time," Cummings said. "You can't get there without taking it one practice at a time and one game at a time. We stayed in the moment for each and every game and practice. You look up and it's a state championship."
It also helped that the team acted as a family. There were frequent trips to dinner together, sleepovers, and hours of time spent together on and off the court.
A trophy in the case doesn't mean the target has left the back. North Augusta will again return its core for another season, as Amari Young and Sarah Crews become seniors and Mya Burns and Aaliyah Bell become juniors.
Cummings sees no reason for the mindset to change.
"We have the potential to be as good if not better next year, but we always tell them potential is nothing without action, so we still have to work hard," she said.
Reach David Lee at (706) 823-3216