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Early Season Surprise Hot Starts (Girls)


No. 4 Mill Creek (11-1)
2015-16: 13-15

Mill Creek has forced its way into the conversation as a dangerous team come state tournament time. It will be a two-team race in Region 6 between the Hawks and No. 2 Collins Hill. Though beating the Eagles will be a difficult task, Mill Creek can hang its hat on a handful of strong out-of-region victories highlighted by wins over Class AAAA No. 4 West Hall (43-35), South Forsyth (71-50) and No. 5 Archer (61-51). Seniors Morgan Simmons, Wynter Webb and Kim Forbes along with junior Bridget Mukasa and sophomore Kayla Mulkey compose a potent core for Coach Ashley Phillips. Simmons has more than doubled her scoring output this year, netting over 16 points per game.


Lanier (10-2)
2015-16: 10-17

The Longhorns have already matched last year’s win total with over half of the season remaining. Junior Jamyah Montissol has blossomed into a player to keep an eye on. She leads Lanier with 14.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 2 steals per game. She is joined by junior Bailey Bassette who is averaging 11.6 points and 3.5 steals. Lanier is a young team with their top seven scorers all set to return next season. Only Angela Raez logs important minutes as a senior. Sophomores Kalen Surles (9.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.3 apg, 3.8 spg) and Mekala Fuller (8.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3 apg, 2.3 spg) are two pieces Coach Oji Perkins can build around for the long haul.


Ware County (8-0)
2015-16: 13-12 

Ware County is a sneaky team in South Georgia with designs on earning a high seed out of Region 2. While Wayne County is the favorite to win the region, the Gators led by sophomore Mataea Boyd could cause some problems. She averages 13.5 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.3 steals to pace Ware County whose best win has come against Swainsboro, 49-44. Second in command is 6-foot junior Shondell Vickers who is posting 10.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2 steals and 1.6 blocks per game.

Class AAAA

No. 7 Sandy Creek (7-1)
2015-16: 9-16 

Coach Janie Hodges has come in from Scotland, NC and has proceeded to turn the Lady Patriots around, leading them to a Top 10 ranking in Class AAAA. Sandy Creek’s only loss has come to Class AAAAA No. 7 Villa Rica at the SMI Classic, 67-65. Wins over Marietta (66-65), Hapeville Charter (49-46) and Greenville, SC (66-64) headline the Patriots’ resume and ability to win the close game. Seniors Shanquaylia Stanton, Kasey Toles and Morghan Currie lead the charge with freshman Daija Powell providing a massive lift. Stanton averages 14.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 4.6 steals while Toles pitches in 13.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.3 steals. Currie brings a rebounding presence to the table, averaging 9.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.1 steals. Powell has a good four years ahead of her. The rookie is posting 11.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks inside.

Class AAA

No. 10 Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe (10-3)
2015-16: 9-18 

Wins at No. 8 Calhoun (60-50) and Haralson County (61-54) have cemented the Warriors as a threat in Region 6. Senior Jazzmyn Elston and sophomore Macey Gregg power the offense of a team which has already surpassed last year’s win total. Elston is averaging 19.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.7 steals while Gregg goes for 16.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 2.8 steals. Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe currently resides atop the region at 5-0 in one of Class AAA’s toughest groupings in the state.

Class AA

Hapeville Charter (8-2)
2015-16: 12-14 

6-foot guard Shekinah Howard has sparked Hapeville Charter in Region 6. Howard has received interest from High Major schools with North Carolina State the latest to check her out. She is averaging 17.8 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. Seniors Gayla Bostic and Taylor Barnett flank her on the attack. Bostic posts 9.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 1.6 blocks inside while Barnett chips in 7 points and 5.1 assists. The Hornets’ exceptional size has harassed opponents. 5-foot-11 senior Jada Neal is averaging 4.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.8 steals and 1.5 blocks while 6-foot-2 freshman Cristany Price is averaging 6.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks. Freshman guard Simone Rowland has brought defense to the perimeter tallying 2.9 steals per game with her 6.1 points. They face a major test on Dec. 28 as the Hornets play Class AAAAAAA No. 4 Mill Creek at the Sweet South Classic.

Class A-Private

Whitefield Academy (6-2)
2015-16: 5-20 

The extreme quality might not be there yet, but the quantity of wins is as Whitefield Academy has already topped last season’s total. The Wolfpack face an uphill climb to make the state playoffs as No. 2 St. Francis, No. 6 Pinecrest Academy, No. 8 Darlington and No. 9 Fellowship Christian all reside in Region 6.

Class A-Public

Johnson County (4-2)
2015-16: 7-20

The win-well could dry up at any moment, but for now the Trojans are off to a solid start. Junior Lexus Wright is averaging 10.8 points and 6.7 rebounds while sophomores Shonnetria Ervin (8 ppg) and Janaya Hawkins (6.5 ppg, 10.5 rpg) have helped the cause.

Etowah Summer Shootout Showcase Analysis

On Wednesday, Etowah held its Summer Shootout Showcase, featuring Johnson-Gainesville, Harrison, Campbell, Johns Creek, Etowah, Whitefield Academy, East Hall and Milton. Each team played two games with the event tipping at 4 PM and concluding after the 7 PM time slot. I was able to catch two games: Johnson vs. Johns Creek and East Hall vs. Whitefield Academy.

Johns Creek 55, Johnson-Gainesville 41

A school-best 24-5 record last season wasn’t enough to save Pete Goggin’s job, meaning Keenan Temple takes over the reins at Johns Creek. Temple has learned under the tutelage of Eddie Martin while at Norcross and most recently Scott Bracco at Lambert with a head coaching stop for three years at Parkview sandwiched in between. Coach Temple inherits a team that loses its top five scorers and looks to be in-line for a down year, but not so fast.

The Gladiators jumped out to a 10-0 run and never looked back. A big reason why Johns Creek cruised to victory?  Rising sophomore guard Neil Ilenrey. The 6-foot-2 guard got his feet wet at the varsity level last year, making a few short appearances. In Year 2, he looks ready to take control of the team. Ilenrey poured in a game-high 16 points to go along with his four rebounds and four assists. He knocked down three deep balls and got in the lane when he needed to.  Ilenrey looked like the real deal and should explode onto teams’ radar this season with the major increase in role and playing time.

Senior Andre Taylor provided 12 points off the bench from an off-guard position. He scored in bunches and provided a nice lift whenever Ilenrey caught a breather on the sidelines. Inside, seniors Alex Ruoff and Topher Sullivan hurt the smaller Knights. Ruoff posted eight points, eight rebounds and two blocks while Sullivan chipped in eight points.

Johnson-Gainesville’s guard play failed them at times, struggling to find open baskets for teammates and allowing Johns Creek’s full-court press to take them out of their rhythm. Dwayne Wilson and Will Richter were the only two players to score more than four points. Wilson, a 6-foot-5 senior, netted 15 points, five rebounds and three blocks. When he touched the ball on offense close to the paint, good things usually happened for the Knights.

Richter, a 6-foot-2 junior guard, will bring shooting to the Johnson backcourt. He hit two three-pointers and finished with 12 points and two assists. On a team that is streaky from beyond the arc, Richter will be heavily relied upon to stretch defenses and allow Kylan Curry and Marcus Jones space to drive and kick while also giving Wilson room to score inside.

5-foot-10 senior Issac Hernandez came off the bench and sparked Johnson-Gainesville with his energy. The cross country standout finished with four points, two assists and two steals. Though he won’t keep scorekeepers busy with his scoring, if Hernandez can bring the same intensity he brought off the bench on Wednesday all season long for Coach Tim Slater, he could play a valuable role this year.

Whitefield Academy 40, East Hall 34

East Hall came into Etowah boasting the youngest roster at the Showcase hands down. Coach Joe Dix loaded his roster with a majority of freshmen with a few sophomores sprinkled in. Imre Earls, a highly touted eighth grader, even saw some playing time. Dix didn’t have much of a choice but to throw his boys into the fire as junior sharp-shooter Luke Cooper broke his ankle during the first day of practice.

Even though they were shorthanded and lacking in experience, the Vikings played hard till the final horn, losing to Milton and Whitefield Academy in competitive games. Luke Holtzclaw was a bright spot in their low-scoring loss to the Wolfpack. The sophomore stroked three threes and finished with a team-leading nine points to go with his three steals.

Senior Mahki Brown collected four points and nine rebounds. The 6-foot-4 post was a double-double threat a year ago and will be asked to anchor the paint and give the Vikings some more offense now that Tylor Brown has graduated and Markese Jackson has decided to forgo his senior season on the hardwood and focus solely on becoming a D-I football receiver.

Whitefield Academy’s Isaiah Hart was East Hall’s main target defensively. The senior guard that averaged 20.1 points per game in 2015-16, was held to six points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals, which helped the Vikings stay within striking distance. Sophomore guard Noah Dryden seems poised for a strong season in the backcourt along with Hart. Missing was 6-foot-7 Tyson Jackson who was not in attendance.