The Panthers get a fresh start Friday.
Despite opening the season ranked No. 10 among the state's 5A schools, Carolina Forest’s girls have struggled to meet those high expectations. Injuries, a suspension and other challenges have led to the team losing most of its games. Still, with region play opening Friday at Socastee, coach Stacy Hughes remains optimistic.
“We’re hoping we’re moving in the right direction,” she said. “It’s kind of set us back. We’re just trying to get our mojo.”
After finishing second to Socastee a year ago, Carolina Forest was the preseason favorite to win the region this winter.
Led by point guard Gabby Giracello, forward Carlie Skolsky and guard Ally Niles, the team lost just one starter from the previous year and retained most of its scoring power. But heading into this week, they had managed to win just two games.
Despite those struggles, Hughes pointed out that she missed the team’s Christmas tournament while dealing with a family emergency and Niles was out for several games with a high ankle sprain.
In last week's loss to Marion, the team finally had most of its pieces together, but Hughes said they will need some time to develop better chemistry.
“We like to get the ball up the court and push the tempo,” she said. “We just need to get that on more of a consistent basis. Because we’re not as big as a lot of teams, so we try to get some offense before the defense sets up.”
Along with the trio of Giracello, Niles and Skolsky, the Panthers will rely on the shooting of guard Reilly Ward and the inside presence of forward Kennedi McLean.
McLean played well last week against Marion, and Hughes hopes that’s a sign of things to come from the sophomore.
“If she plays like she did [Friday], she’s really going to help us out the rest of the season,” Hughes said. “That was kind of a breakthrough game.”
In the region, Hughes said South Florence looks strong and West Florence has improved. Socastee, which had lost players to graduation, picked up some transfers who have given that team a boost. St. James and Conway are in rebuilding mode, but the region overall is challenging.
“It’s going to be more competitive than we hoped for sure,” Hughes said.
Although the season hasn’t gone the way Hughes envisioned thus far, she knows what her team is capable of.
“We still want to win the region,” she said. “We’re going to have to play our best basketball, but that’s the No. 1 goal.”