Much like on the boys side, Class AAAAAAA’s top teams were dominant. No. 1 Westlake drilled Sandy Creek 65-19, No. 2 McEachern beat Stephenson 77-65 and blew past Class 5A No. 6 Southwest DeKalb 73-52 at the Parkview Tip-Off Classic while No. 3 Collins Hill dismantled Riverwood 91-7. No. 4 Norcross suffered a 64-51 loss to Class 3A No. 1 Greater Atlanta Christian but remains in the four-spot after beating Tucker 63-52 and Class 6A No. 4 Harrison 63-50. Coach Angie Hembree has not been on the sidelines yet this season as she battles with health issues. No. 9 Brookwood moves down one spot after struggling with ML King, 52-43. Lambert (1-1) slides out of the Top 10 for now after losing a tough 48-41 game to Class 5A No. 3 Eagle’s Landing at the Johns Creek Gladiator Showcase. The Longhorns are replaced by No. 10 South Gwinnett The Comets are 3-0 with wins over Duluth (47-37), Grovetown (54-36) and Miller Grove (49-29).
No. 2 Winder-Barrow didn’t necessarily open their season with an overly impressive start, the Class AAAAAA power struggling to score in a 35-24 win over Central Gwinnett at the Tabo’s Tip-Off Classic. Chellia Watson dumped in 15 points to lead the Lady Doggs. UConn-signee Olivia Nelson-Ododa is still trying to regain her form after dislocating her knee cap last season. The Doggs see a respected Mill Creek team in Round 2 today. No. 6 Douglas County breezed by Tri-Cities 88-33 behind Amari Robinson’s 18 points. The Tigers face a stiff challenge today against Norcross at the Parkview Tip-Off Classic. No. 9 Forest Park drops one spot after losing at Parkview 51-50, blowing a 39-28 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Nonetheless, 6-foot-3 freshman post Sania Feagin has been impressive to start the year. She had 15 points, 13 rebounds and 6 blocks in a 62-27 rout of North Clayton before adding on 10 points, 7 rebounds and 4 blocks against the Panthers.
Michigan State-signee Tory Ozment said the goal for No. 1 Buford is to repeat in Class AAAAA this year. The Lady Wolves looked sharp in their 71-31 win over Duluth at the Craig Sager Memorial Tournament, Ozment leading the way with 15 points. Ebony Grant added 11 while Air Force-signee Audrey Weiner netted 9. Region 8 rival No. 2 Flowery Branch shook off the rust with a 67-40 win at Chestatee and a 55-47 victory against No. 4 Carrollton, Alabama-signee Taniyah Worth going for 23 points and 7 rebounds while Caroline Wysocki, a junior that might be taking her game to the next level, finished with 19 points, 5 assists and 9 steals.
In Class AAAA, No. 2 Spalding has gotten a lift from freshman guard Kierstyn Milner. The spark plug is averaging 19 points per game for the 2-0 Jaguars. No. 4 Luella jumps No. 5 Jefferson after the Dragons were upset by Class 3A No. 7 Dawson County. The Lions did damage at the Hoops 4 A Cure Classic, pouring on a 78-40 win over Milton highlighted by Kamya Hollingshed’s 27 points and 12 rebounds. Keely Brown added 24 and Zaria Bankston netted 15. Hollingshed nailed 12 threes in the Lions two weekend wins.
There is a new No. 1 in Class AAA, but it’s no fault of defending state champion No. 2 Beach who hasn’t started their season yet. No. 1 Greater Atlanta Christian has made a statement behind Auburn’s Robyn Benton and Hofstra’s Caria Reynolds. The Spartans, who boast four D-I signees (Taylor Sutton – MTSU; MaryMartha Turner – Wofford), have already beaten Norcross (64-51), Woodward Academy (87-36) and Milton (98-15). Their firepower will be on display today against Southwest DeKalb. Near the bottom of the poll, Coach Steve Sweat was at it again, guiding his No. 7 Dawson County squad to a 68-56 win over Jefferson. No. 9 Hart County jumps into the rankings after beating Class 4A No. 7 Madison County 54-51. Inactive Cedar Grove (0-0) drops out of the rankings for now. No. 10 Lovett remains anchored in the final spot after losing in overtime to Class 2A No. 4 Model, but beating Class A-Private No. 5 Landmark Christian 56-37.
No. 4 Model was Class AA’s biggest mover, up two spots after beating Lovett 63-59 in overtime. South Carolina-signee Victaria Saxton was unstoppable inside, exploding for 32 points and 21 rebounds, outbattling Stanford-signee, guard Jenna Brown who had 21 points. Model’s only apparent competition in Region 7, Dade County (0-2) exits from the poll after losing at Collinsville, AL 42-28 and to Ringgold 62-50. Replacing the preseason No. 7 team is No. 10 Bleckley County. Jahnaria Brown is back in the fold as a versatile forward. She helped the Royals to a 46-19 win over Hawkinsville.
The race for style points in Class A-Private is officially on, as No. 1 Holy Innocents’, No. 2 Wesleyan and No. 3 St. Francis took turns boat-racing their opponents. The Golden Bears drubbed Archer 68-38, the Wolves beat Whitewater 68-33 and the Lady Knights blew out Brewbaker Tech and Carver, AL by an average of 47.5 points at the Hoops 4 A Cure Classic. Climbing two spots to No. 4, is Fellowship Christian. Colorado-signee Cameron Swartz poured in a career-high 45 to lead the Paladins past No. 10 Pinecrest Academy, 57-49.
There were no changes in Class A-Public. No. 2 Telfair County and No. 3 Wheeler County were scheduled to play on Saturday, but no score has been posted. (If you know the score or if the game was even played, please contact me.)
Contributed by Rob Grubbs (@RCGJr226070)
Photo by CD Photography (@FayetteSports)
Fayette County 58, Sandy Creek 32
FAYETTEVILLE, Georgia – Two teams that had impressive finishes to last years’ season faced off in an early inter-county rivalry game. The Sandy Creek Lady Patriots made it to the Class AAAA Final 4 where they would lose to eventual champion Columbus. Graduation was not kind to Coach Janie Hodges and the Lady Patriots as they lost their dynamic backcourt duo of ShanQuaylia Stanton and Kasey Toles from last year’s team. This year’s team will be focused more on a strong inside game from their star post players, Daija Powell and Paris Thompson.
Fayette County Coach John Strickland also lost a key player from last year’s Class AAAAA Sweet 16 team, Darryl Langford who is at the Naval Academy now, but brought back a deep roster with strong senior leadership. In contrast to Sandy Creek, the Lady Tigers bring experience to the backcourt but are young inside. The matchup was a classic opportunity for both teams to see where they are and what needs work. Since this is was a non-region game, one team was going to win while the other was going to learn more about themselves.
Sandy Creek jumped out to an 8-5 first quarter lead with all points scored by Powell. The new guard tandem of Nina Lum and Jania Hodges were constantly feeding the ball down low, and Powell was moving in the paint with ease. As the game progressed, the Lady Tigers continued to rotate players, making wholesale changes at almost every break. Guards Maegan Brantley, Sidney Sims and Trinity Brown were playing fast and they slowly turned the defensive pressure up which wore down the Patriots. After taking a 22-18 lead into the half, the Lady Tigers dominated the third quarter with their full court press and depth to pull away.
Afterwards, Strickland was proud his post players who were getting the first significant playing time of their career. “Naomi Franco and Celine Akande played outstanding against their inside players, who are really good. We know what we have in our frontcourt, we know what to expect from Maegan, Trinity and Sidney, but I was really encouraged with how Naomi and Celine played. If they continue to progress, that will open up more of our offense.”
Strickland also wanted to brag more on his ladies latest academic feats than the game, he said, “This has the potential to be a special group.”
In the end, it was Fayette County 58-32 with Brown and Barkley leading scorers with 15 each. Franco played a solid game in the post, just missing a double-double with 9 points and 9 rebounds. Powell led the Lady Patriots with 15; look for them to improve as the season goes along and their guard play gets more comfortable and confident.
The Class AAAAAA No. 1 ranked Northview Lady Titans hit the road to visit a new-look Woodstock Wolverines team with Jared Hughes at the helm, his first official game on the sidelines after coming over from Rome to replace long-time head coach Julie Crowe. Last season it was the Titans who hosted the Wolverines to open the year with Northview scoring a dominant 57-44 victory. The tables were nearly turned on Tuesday as Woodstock pushed the Titans to the limit before falling 61-51.
Arriving just 15 minutes before game-time after an hour and 45-minute commute, Northview opened up slow with fouls piling up. Starting point guard Asjah Inniss was ushered to the bench with two fouls in just a minute and 50 seconds, immediately testing Northview’s depth.
The Titans managed to push the lead to 10-4, but at the 3:46 mark, it was Maya Richards’ turn to pick up her second foul and head to the bench. With two key cogs on Coach Chris Yarbrough’s bench, the Wolverines made their move. Freshman point guard Kayden Montgomery sparked a 7-0 run to take an 11-10 lead, hustling to earn second-chance points by hitting the glass and deflecting an assist to physical post Ivana George, who scored all six of her points in the first half.
Woodstock had opportunities to take a lead heading into the second quarter but three turnovers in near succession held the score at 13-13 after one. Highly touted freshman combo guard Eden Sample carried the offensive burden in the first quarter with Inniss and Richards sidelined and the Titans already with nine team fouls. The smooth shooter scored six points and netted 12 of her team-high 16 in the first half.
Playing with two fouls, Inniss reentered to start the second quarter and ignited the Titans. A quick steal led to an And-1 and before long Northview found itself leading 22-14 with 5:37 left to play, a 9-1 run.
Coach Hughes’ Wolverines settled down and cut the lead to 27-22, George and Montgomery working an inside-out game. On the other side, Austin continued to pound away inside. She went 5-of-6 from the line and finished the night with 16 points, 14 rebounds and four steals.
Down 10 with seconds remaining, Montgomery banked in a three at the buzzer to keep the Wolverines in striking distance heading into the half down 34-27.
Northview came out of the locker room with something to prove in the second half. Clamping on a diamond press, the Titans ripped off a 13-0 run to put the Wolverines on the ropes, now down 20 at 47-27 less than three minutes into the third.
Just a few more baskets away from Goliath landing the knockout punch to David, the underdogs found their stone in the form of 5-foot-11 sophomore Sophia Singer. After scoring just four points in the first half, the potential laced wing poured in 10 of Woodstock’s 11 points in the frame including back-to-back threes to put the Wolverines’ upset bid back on life support, heading into the fourth quarter down 54-38.
The Singer onslaught continued in the final frame as Woodstock sparked a 7-0 run to bring the score to 54-45. The closest the Wolverines would draw would be at the 4:06 mark after Singer put in two of her game-high 21 points off an offensive rebound to make the score 55-48.
From that point on, the Titans finally got a hold of Singer and contained her to one point the rest of the way and was able to nurse a healthy 8-to-10-point lead to the finish line. Northview scored all their fourth quarter points from the charity stripe, going 7-of-10.
It wasn’t the prettiest way to start the season – a foul fest – but No. 1 Northview was able to hang on. There looked like upwards of four future D-I players on the court. Ashlee Austin is still the most consistent player for Northview and she will be asked to become even more of a cornerstone now that Shannon Titus is at Mercer. The 2019 6-foot-2 forward crashed the glass hard as always and looked even better on the perimeter than last year, comfortable going between her legs and off the dribble to create for shooters in the corner. In due time, I’d like to see her finish those drives through defenders instead of kicking out, but she did a good job of not forcing any bad shots. As good as Austin was, Asjah Inniss was the energizer bunny and the straw that stirred the drink for Northview. The quick and wiry sophomore looked like the game slowed down for her after she tended to play a little too fast as a freshman. Inniss has great hands on the perimeter and can get to a ton of 50/50 balls. Her 13 points and nine steals were a major difference maker. The Titans didn’t function nearly as well on both sides of the ball while she was in foul trouble. Freshman Eden Sample has a pretty stroke and good body control when she finds herself on the low block. She’s able to finish through contact. She stepped up big time with Inniss on the bench and will be counted on to stretch defenses. She has a bright next four years. An unsung hero was undersized senior post Camil Butler. She saw sporadic minutes last season but had to play a big role right away with Maya Richards on the bench. She finished with five points (5-of-6 FT), three rebounds, one assist, two steals and two blocks. She was automatic from the foul line and very composed when she found the ball in her hands. Great lift off the bench.
Woodstock is young and a little banged up, especially at the guard position. That did not stop Jared Hughes’ team from competing the entire 32 minutes. Down 20 points to the No. 1 team in the state, the Wolverines could have easily laid over and took a 30-point loss, but instead they battled and found a new go-to girl in Sophia Singer. After seeing Singer last season as a freshman, you could tell there was potential there. The daughter of Western Illinois football hall of fame quarterback Paul Singer, Sophia stands close to 6-foot tall with an agile frame and long wingspan. She long jumps 17.5 and runs the 200M, so the athleticism to go with her height is definitely apparent. She broke out last night and started to let it fly after a timid first half. When aggressive, Singer can score in the paint, mid-range and knock down the corner three. If she can stay aggressive on offense, she could be just what Coach Hughes needs to push the Wolverines back into the playoffs. She also mixed it up on defense, picking up a nice block on Austin inside and spent the fourth quarter defending Inniss up top, showcasing her ability to guard multiple positions. Aside from Singer’s big performance, freshman Kayden Montgomery played a nice floor game. Not blessed with the size or speed of her opposition, Montgomery was deceptively mobile and used her IQ to craft her way into making plays. She drained two threes and dished out five assists in her first varsity start. She will be thrown into the fire as a youngster and should come out better for it once her career is said and done.
2016-17 Record: 5-19 Head Coach: Karen Frady – 1st Season
Coach Frady will be the Lady Indians’ third head coach in three years. She is an East Coweta alumni with deep ties to the community. She envisions the beginning of a long process, but is excited about the challenge.
“When we first started, the girls did not know how to play man-to-man defense, they are just so used to losing. We are starting the process, we are challenging the girls to get a little better each day. It’s all about learning fundamentals. We need to stress fundamentals all day, every day. We will set some small goals for the season and try to achieve those first. Honestly, I’m not that concerned about wins and losses — my main thing is I want the girls to be better than they were at the start of the season, and it begins with getting the fundamentals down.”
In terms of this current squad, she said “We have six seniors, we have quickness, and the ladies are quick learners. We are going to focus on defense and on slowing the game down. That will be the best way for us to learn and follow the process.”
They are in one of the toughest regions in the state, Region 2, and the lessons are going to be painful, but look for Coach Frady to add some stability and take a few steps forward in the process. Alex Colton, London Fowler, Aja Manning and Haley Davis will be the players Frady will count on.
East Coweta Indians
2016-17 Record: 14-12 Head Coach: Royal Maxwell — 3rd Season
Assistant Coach Ty Townsend introduced the Indians team leaders; Derrick Emory, Brandon Stroud, Jamir Williams, Rhet Reynolds and Isaiah Richardson. The challenge for the upcoming season is to replace their big man that graduated last season, Elafayette Stone. Coach Townsend said it would be “a next man up mentality. There are a lot of returning players and we expect to be more disciplined. There is not a whole lot of tradition here, but we are looking to continue to build on last year and our expectations are higher this year.”
With the sting of last year’s season ending loss to Campbell in overtime, the players said, “This year, we have broken the season down into chapters, and we intend to read the whole book.”
Look for the Indians to improve on last seasons’ record and be a factor in the region tournament. They have already started an impressive resume with a solid win against a Fayette County team that made the Final Four last year in their opener.
Starr’s Mill Lady Panthers
2016-17 Record: 12-13 Head Coach: Emily Sweeney – 1st Season
At Starr’s Mill, the ladies coach from last season, Shane Ratliff, was promoted and assistant Emily Sweeney has stepped into the top spot; it has been a big year from Sweeney who now has the head coaching job and just got married as well. She has implemented a motion offense and is currently working in more press defense looks. With the graduation of their post player from last season, the team will be built around the guard play of Alyssa Angelo and Alice Anne Hudson. Also key will be senior and returning starter Emily Nieuwstraten and freshman Ali Rumpel, in the middle, who adds height.
Angelo and Nieuwstraten have just made the transfer over from softball and have not missed a beat. Sweeney said, “Alyssa is like having a coach on the floor, she keeps everyone where they are supposed to be, and she is tough as nails.”
Their goal is make it back to the state playoffs, which will depend on how quickly the freshman gets up to speed and how the team jells to the new systems.
Starr’s Mill Panthers
2016-17 Record: 18-11 (Sweet 16) Head Coach: Brandon Hutchins — 12th Season Preseason Class AAAAA No. 10
The Panthers return a large portion of the Sweet 16 team from last year that lost to Miller Grove in the playoffs. With a roster that includes eight seniors, Coach Hutchins says, “This is the best group I have ever been around.”
One omission from the team unfortunately is three-year starter Zach Pina, who transferred before his senior season to arch-rival McIntosh. Hutchins on the loss, “We miss Zach of course, he was a big part of this program, but we have moved on, it is next man up. Fortunately for us, everyone on the roster can handle the ball.” Senior Jake Bishop will take over the point guard duties in the Panther offense.
Starr’s Mill has a lot of height up front in 6-foot-7 Nate Allison, 6-foot-5 Drew Hudson and 6-foot-6 Chase Sands and Coach Hutchins indicted that junior Julian Lynch has opened some eyes in the preseason camp. Senior Drew Hudson said, “We went to a couple of college camps this summer and had success, we are excited.”
If Bishop can run the offense, look for the Panthers to make a state playoff return.
McIntosh Lady Chiefs
2016-17 Record: 20-9 (Sweet 16) Head Coach: Jessica Carlyle — 1st Season
When longtime McIntosh Lady Chief Head Coach David Dowse left after a successful 2016/17 campaign to take the Lumpkin County job, the Chiefs reached out to former Landmark Christian Head Coach Jessica Carlyle. Her first impression of the team was that the core players were serious about basketball. She said “My philosophy is very much different from what the players are used to. We have a very small roster, very short and we are going to play very serious in your face defense.”
Her leaders include Junior Kennedy Miller and Rylee Calhoun. Per Carlyle, “Kennedy is a phenomenal point guard and in the past her role was to distribute the ball, we will be asking her to take on more of the scoring responsibility this year. And Rylee, she seems to always have a basketball in her hand. She has a nice shot as well.”
At the college summer camps, Miller said “They taught us more about being a leader on the floor.”
You can bet that Carlyle’s new emphasis on defense will catch hold of her quick athletic team and they will be right in the middle of the playoff chase again.
2016-17 Record: 12-13 Head Coach: Jason Eisele — 16th Season Preseason Class AAAAA No. 7
Head Coach Jason Eisele is the dean of the Coweta/Fayette coaches as he embarks on his 16th season. Of his current edition, he said “We will not impress you off the bus, but our entire roster of 13 players are extremely skilled and we will cause match-up problems because of our speed and depth. We will be very flexible and can play a lot of different groups.”
A roster that includes six seniors includes two potential stars in transfer guard Zach Pina and 6-foot-7 wing player Cole Guenther. Pina is an efficient scorer who can drive to the rim or hit the outside shot. When asked about the whirlwind of his transfer, he said “It just feels good to be wearing green and black.”
Guenther has a deadly outside shot and if he is on, it can be lights out. Eisele said “Cole has worked hard over the summer on his ball handling skills and taking the ball to the rim to compliment his shot.” With the versatility and the leadership of Pina and Guenther, this could turn into a special mix. Eisele summed it by saying “we have a lot of selfless players, and we will play a lot faster than we ever have.”
Spalding Lady Jaguars
2016-17 Record: 22-7 (Elite Eight) Head Coach: Tykira Gilbert — 3rd Season Preseason Class AAAA No. 2
Head Coach Tykira Gilbert and the defending Region 2-AAAA Lady Jaguars are preparing for a special season. Starting her third year, Coach Gilbert said, “We have completely changed the culture of girls basketball here at Spalding in just three years.” As for this year’s team, Gilbert said “We will play fast, in your face defense, we love to press, that is who we are.” A lot of that speed and athleticism comes from Region 2-AAAA player of the year Kiana Banks, who won the state track championship in the 400 meter and just signed a track scholarship with TCU.
Gilbert will look for leadership from the point guard position from senior Kirah Milner. With a deep and talented roster and the star power of Banks and Milner, look for the Lady Jaguars to make a run at the state championship. When asked about the pressure of the high preseason rankings, Gilbert summed it up perfectly, “They don’t mean anything, it only matters how you finish.” Keep your eye on these ladies this year.
2016-17 Record: 3-22 Head Coach: Joey Wilder — 1st Season
New Jaguar Head Coach Joey Wilder is no stranger to the court. He has coached at Sandy Creek, Fayette County and Westlake. In 12 years of coaching, he won seven region championships, with one state runner-up and two final fours, and was named the assistant coach of the year. He brings that experience to begin to build the same excitement and energy that Coach Gilbert has with the ladies program.
Even with the poor record from last year, Wilder sees the pieces to begin the process. “We have very talented kids, we are learning and implementing accountability and dealing with our egos, we are slowly growing. But our roster has talent and I have seen improvement in all players. We are going from a slow tempo offense to more movement. We need to learn to trust each other and jell as a team.”
Leading the way will be junior leaders G Josh Reddick and 6-foot-8 center Phillip Richards. There are five seniors on the roster for leadership and a very strong junior class, including some incoming freshman and sophomores who will get some playing time. When just starting out, Wilder said, “It is always good to have a big man like PR.” Look for the Jaguars to be much improved and blow past last year’s win total.
Whitewater Lady Wildcats
2016-17 Record: 13-12 Head Coach: Rashad Muhyee — 5th year
After an injury riddled season last year, the Lady Wildcats are once again healthy and look to get back into the playoff conversation. Coach Muhyee said the team goals this year are to win the region and make it out of the first round. To accomplish, the Lady Wildcats will rely on talented juniors Jada Claude, 6-foot with a strong inside game, Courtney Smith, a scoring guard who is coming back from injury and Maya Bryant who also has the size to play inside.
When asked where they had improved the most during the off season, Smith said, “I have worked really hard on my ball handling,” while Claude said “ball handling, it will open up my scoring and passing lanes. In talking about their toughest opponents ahead, Muhyee said, “We don’t look at our opponents, we look at ourselves, we look at how we can improve and get better, and we feel like if we continue to work and improve then the wins will take care of themselves.”
2016-17 Record: 9-15 Head Coach: Fred West — 3rd Season
The story of the Wildcats last season was close but not close enough, they played well in a lot of games but couldn’t pull them out in the end. They enjoyed a couple of big wins against region rivals and state qualifiers Starr’s Mill and McIntosh, but the losses mounted as the season went along. They bring back a strong core in guards CJ Jackson, K’won Bush and Josh Lanier. Unfortunately, their leading scorer from last season Josh Graham has transferred to Pebblebrook.
After a successful summer at a Georgia State camp, the Wildcats look to add big man 6-foot-5 Isaiah Claude and guard Julian Johnson to the rotation. Playing with a smaller line up – the Wildcats will look to play a pesky full court defense and a motion offense that will allow their guards to get open looks. Expect to see a lot of energy and movement on the court. The Wildcats should inch their way back closer to .500 for the season and give a lot of teams match-up problems with their 4-guard sets.
Sandy Creek Lady Patriots
2016-17 Record: 24-7 (Final Four) Head Coach: Janie Hodges — 2nd Season
In her first season, Coach Hodges used an excellent senior backcourt to win the Region 5-AAAA Championship and take a run deep into the playoffs that ended against eventual champion Columbus. Graduation hit the Lady Patriots hard and now Coach Hodges is in charge of leading somewhat of a rebuild, but by no means is the cupboard bare.
While last year’s team was centered around the guard play, this team will strong inside. Returning are inside players junior Paris Thompson and sophomore Daija Powell. Both saw extensive playing time in Coach Hodges’ rotation last year and will be counted on to step up the production this season. Powell has an incredible post game and had several high scoring games last year.
The job of running the offense falls on junior Nina Lum who played significant minutes as a reserve last season. Hodges said, “Nina has been in the program for three years, she is experienced, and she is ready to lead the team.”
The key to the season will be how quickly Coach Hodges can work the new players into the rotations. The Lady Patriots already have a game under their belts against state powerhouse Westlake. Hodges said, “I am glad we played them, it showed us where we are and what we need to work on.” In those early season games, you either win or you learn, the Lady Patriots learned they are in transition, but the future is bright. Look for them to make another run to get into the playoffs.
Sandy Creek Patriots
2016-17 Record: 23-8 (Final Four) Head Coach: Jon-Michael Nickerson — 1st Season Preseason Class AAAA No. 3
The Patriots caught lightning in a bottle late last season and after a disappointing region tournament loss went on a run that took them to the Final Four where they lost to St. Pius. This started a transition within the program as a leadership change brought in Coach Nickerson who brings an impressive college resume. A lot of talent returns with 6-foot-8 wing TJ Bickerstaff, 6-foot-8 stretch forward Xavier Brewer, 6-foot-4 point guard Jarred Godfrey, Chris Porter and spark plug guard Kameron Miller. Coach Nickerson brings a tenacious defensive intensity to the team that was missing in the past.
When asked about the biggest difference between then and now, Miller said, “The practices are more intense and fast paced, there is purpose to everything we do.” Nickerson added, “This was a big change for the players and they bought in, I am proud of where we are, we still have a lot to add in over time, but we are getting there. It takes time to incorporate everything we will do into our game plan, but we are getting there and are ready to play.”
For the players that got a taste of post seasons last year, anything less than a championship with be disappointing. Look for the talented Patriots make a run.
2016-17 Record: 6-21 Head Coach: Willie Reese — 2nd Season
Former Georgia Tech star and assistant coach Willie Reese returns to Griffin for his second season with more reason for optimism. Griffin has a rich heritage in all spots and can boast of multiple state championships in basketball. His philosophy is to build and utilize multi-skill players.
Coach Reese said, “For some reason in the city of Griffin, we have a lot of 6’1 to 6’4 young men which is good because it lets us have interchangeable parts. This year, we will play nine or 10 deep, with six of those players returning from playing time last year. We are looking forward to a good season with steady improvement over last year.”
His key returners include two 2nd team all-region players from last year, point guard Jacarlin Dennis and senior guard Darrell Evans Jr. who is a four-year letterman. Coach Reese reminds his players last year when they were up on eventual Class AAAA champion Upson-Lee late in a game by four points only to see it slip away, that the talent is there, they just need to continue to work on the little things and on playing team basketball.
Reese said, “I learned from Coach Cremins and Coach Hewitt at Tech that it was about the little things, working with kids individually to continue to make small steps, that is what we are doing here at Griffin.”
The Bears will continue to improve this year and look to move up in the region standings; look for an upset or two as well.
Fayette County Lady Tigers
2016-17 Record: 21-9 (Sweet 16) Head Coach: John Strickland — 13th Season
Coach Strickland has been the model of success and consistency at Fayette County as head coach for 12 years and last season was no different. Strickland has gotten to the point of his career that others are envious of, it has now a legacy, not only with wins but with relationships. This is highlighted by one of his former players, Tessa Holt who played at Boston College and later coached in college, returning as an assistant for this season. That consistency builds confidence in his players that success is right there in front of them.
Lost from last year’s playoff team was leader Darryl Langford who plays at Navy now, but there is plenty of talent returning and the seniors on the roster have played together since middle school. They include guards Maegan Barkley, Trinity Brown and Rikkelle Miller. There is also height in 6-foot-2 sophomore Naomi Franco and freshman 6-foot-1 Celine Akande, both whom add a post presence. When you factor in junior guard Sidney Sims, the Tigers have a deep roster with multiple rotation possibilities.
Coach Strickland said, “To win in girls basketball, you have to make free throws and layups, it’s that simple. We know that and understand that, this team could be really good this year, we have a lot of leaders.”
The Lady Tigers will challenge for the region title and be right in the middle of the playoffs again.
2016-17 Record: 7-18 Head Coach: Maurice Smith — 5th season
The Vikings play in one of the toughest regions in the state, where last year both boys and the girls state champions came from, Region 5-AAAAAA. Under Coach Smith – the Vikes have improved their win total over the past three seasons and look to continue that trend this year and attempt to get over the hump and make some noise in the region tournament.
Coach Smith said, “We already know we can win, we just need to start winning those small battles within the game itself. This year’s roster is deep with 12 who will see playing time, including seven seniors. Leaders on the team include 6-foot-2 Jermarki Cunningham, 6-foot-5 Cam Ellis, 6-foot Perez McLaughlin and 6-fot-2 Devontae Johnson.”
The schedule is tough, Smith said, “from a region standpoint, there are no breaks, every game will be a battle. Our goal is to continue to prove and win two games in the region tournament. I know these guys have it in them. We are 12 deep and all of our players are similar, we have the depth to press and play fast. We don’t have a particular game circled on the schedule, we will just take them one game at a time and see where we end up.”
Look for the Vikings to ride the wave of their seniors and continue the trend of improving their win totals each season.
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Fayette County boys
Our Lady of Mercy boys
Our Lady of Mercy girls
FAYETTEVILLE, Georgia. The top-ranked Westlake Lady Lions opened the 2017/2018 basketball season with a scrimmage on the road against the Fayette County Tigers Wednesday night. Westlake has been to the Elite 8 three years in a row, but with the talent, depth and the top ranking, this season they want more. Coach Hilda Hankerson said, “Our ladies are excited about the #1 ranking, they are ready to compete.” The Lady Lions took that first step with a convincing 66-42 win over a very good Fayette County team.
Coach Hankerson has a powerhouse lineup with three pre-season Class AAAAAAA All-State players in Texas Tech signee Taylor Hosendove, Simone Lett and Shekinah Howard to go along with All-Region guard Anastasia Warren, Carlyse Hooks and Paris Mullins. To compliment their veteran roster are two impressive freshman as well, Raven Johnson and Brianna Turnage who will be making noise in the seasons ahead.
The game was tied at 6 at the four minute mark when the Lady Lions unleashed a suffocating full court pressure defense and quickly went on a 17-0 that put things away early. It did not help that Lady Tiger leader and three-point sharp shooter Rikkelle Miller got in foul trouble immediately and missed most of the first half. With Warren putting constant pressure on the ball, Fayette County struggled to put together scoring possessions.
The Lady Tigers found some answers after halftime and with Miller connecting on several 3s, the Lady Tigers were much more composed against the constant pressure and held their own. But Coach Hankerson was rolling fresh players constantly into the game. With their depth (Coach Hankerson has 15 players and they all look like they could start), they are equipped for a season that will see fatigue and foul troubles at some point. Warren led a balanced scoring attack for the Lady Lions with 12 and Hosendove added 11, while Miller lead the Fayette County offense with 10 points.
Afterwards, Hankerson was pleased but saw a lot of work ahead. When asked what they needed to work on after the game, she quipped, “Everything, but especially our rebounding and defensive rotations. Those areas were not where they needed to be. We have a lot of potential, but right now, we have a lot of things to work on.”
This is going to be a fun season to watch for Westlake. Leadership and the talent to raise the bar from the past three years and complete something special. The Fayette County Tigers will compete for the Region title in 2-AAAAAAA and will look to once again return to the state playoffs.