Childersburg's lone senior, La'Kenya Swain, watched the other members of her class leave the team after her freshman season. Swain, like many of them, spent that year on the bench.
Her playing time rarely increased as a sophomore. As a junior, she averaged 10 minutes in the regular season yet still spent the entire Final Four game on the bench.
Over the years, her father, Carlos Swain, watched her come home from practice struggling with doubts.
"I told her just keep her composure," Carlos Swain said. "She had girls that's in a higher grade, that's older than her. … I told her you just got to wait your turn. Your turn coming, and next year you'll be the only senior on the team, and you will get as much playing time as you want."
On Thursday night, Swain ended her high school career grabbing a team-high seven rebounds in Childersburg's 89-32 loss to Plainview (24-5) in the Class 3A Southeast Regional semifinals.
As the lone senior on a team that includes eight middle schoolers, two freshmen, two sophomores and zero juniors, Swain was often asked to lead this season.
"You got to think about, we dealing with a team full of middle schoolers," La'Kenya Swain said. "So of course when they get mad or they airball a 3 or when they drive and get their shot blocked, they going to get frustrated. And sometimes that can mess up our defensive plays. So I got to tell them, 'hey, calm down we all miss shots.'"
Childersburg coaches often relied on Swain to correct girls that found themselves in the wrong spot on the floor. The senior said the first six weeks of practice felt like they were happening in slow motion at times, so the team's younger members could learn assignments Swain memorized before the end of last season.
None of those responsibilities were surprising to the senior. She knew what she was getting herself into as the lone remaining member of a group that ended the previous three seasons in the Final Four twice and the Sweet Sixteen once.
"I fed off the people from last year," Swain said. "So I knew once they left, I was going to play this year. … So I was like okay I need to pick it up. I need to pay attention to what the older girls do as captains so I can learn from their mistakes and learn what they're learning so I can be prepared when it's my turn."
Childersburg coach Gavin King said Swain's turn would have come much sooner had she not found herself behind two players that scored 1,000 points and a third that continued in college. But once those girls moved on, it's undeniable that Swain made the most of her minutes this season.
"As the season has progressed, she's gotten where she doesn't have to come out," King said. "Which for post players is sometimes rare. ... She has literally been put in one of the most important roles on the team."
In fact, in Monday's sub-regional win over Piedmont, Swain came off the court for just 17 total seconds.
Before the game against Plainview, Swain said she wanted to end the season with a championship. Falling short of that, she said the Tigers had already given her the sort of postseason run she hoped to have as a senior.
"I'm going to cry (if we lose Thursday)," Swain said on Wednesday afternoon. "But it is going to be like happy tears because we already made it this far."