Crystal Cummings didn’t really plan to be a varsity girls’ basketball coach in the largest classification in South Carolina public school athletics. In fact, when she applied for a job at North Augusta High School, the Augusta State grad was in the market to be a physical education teacher and not necessarily at the high school level.

Then Crystal Bush, a PE teacher at North Augusta Middle School and one of Cummings’ masters-level classmates, told Cummings about a PE opening at North Augusta High School.

While she hadn’t intended to teach high-schoolers, she contacted the school about the opening anyway.

“When I called, they asked me if I had any coaching experience,” Cummings said.

She did, but as a volunteer coach at the Family Y. Despite a lack of varsity-level experience, Cummings had a strategy that she had outlined for a paper while getting her master’s degree. In it, she described her “defense-minded” game plan that centers around man-to-man defense.

Cummings said that, in watching basketball at all levels including high school ball, a majority of the teams she saw ran a zone defense. Because of that, she figured most teams’ normal offensive sets would be geared toward attacking a zone defense.

“Some plays that work with man defense don’t work with man defense because of rotation,” Cummings reasoned.

Her strategy also dictates that the team “will press the majority of the game,” and it must have struck a chord with the NAHS administration.

“From there, they offered me the job, and I’ve been working on it ever since,” Cummings said.

The hiring decision, while perhaps a bit outside the norm, has paid off so far. The Yellow Jackets are 4-1 so far and have beaten Evans and Lakeside twice each, both out of the Georgia side of the Augusta area.

While the solid start is certainly pleasant, it has by no means been a surprise to Cummings. She said she knew the Jackets were a good squad after returning several players from last year’s Region 5-AAAA third-place team, but she obviously couldn’t know what her opponents were going to be able to do.

“I kind of expected it,” she said. “I got handed a very good team with great work ethic.”

The leader of that work ethic is senior swing player Jasmine Coach, Cummings said. An All-Aiken Standard third-team selection a year ago, Coach scored 26 points in the Jackets’ 68-52 win over Evans on Dec. 11 and is someone Cummings considers the “mood of the team.”

When Coach is talkative and excited, the team is excited. When Coach comes into practice more reserved, so do the rest of the Jackets.

“She brings energy. Always count on her to bring the energy,” Cummings said. “She’s one of the hardest-working players on the team.”

Another player that’s been key to implementing Cummings’ game plan is Mallory Stone. A second-team All-Aiken Standard honoree after last season, Stone has always been a “pretty big volume scorer,” but she’s stepped up at the other end of the floor this year.

“She’s the leader of my defensive front,” Cummings said.

In addition to Arielle Houston and Ja’Lyn Sanders, Cummings has been pleased with what she’s gotten out of Desmonet Williams. A sophomore that was on the junior varsity team last season, Wilson – like Houston – added eight points to the Jackets’ efforts against Evans.

“She has really been a surprise. She has come on strong,” Cummings said of Wilson. “I’m really excited that I’ll get her for this year and then two more years after that.”

Cummings will next get a chance to test her system on Tuesday, when the Jackets host Grovetown (Ga.) at 6 p.m. with revenge in mind, after the Warriors handed them their first loss of the year by a 50-45 overtime margin on Saturday. North Augusta will begin region play on Jan. 8 when they play host to Lexington.

Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been at the Aiken Standard since June 2010.