Girls basketball lineups reload this winter after 8 of 12 All-County standouts graduated.
There’s a lot of physics involved in high school basketball. But girls lineups in Coweta County expect to be majoring in chemistry for the 2018-19 season.
Eight of last year’s dozen standouts selections on All-County lineups have earned diplomas after finishing up varsity careers with high honors on the court.
The end result will have teams needing to replace top-point scorers, ball-handlers and rebounders depending on the lineup.
But there is as much excitement coming from respective head coaches heading into the first two weeks of the schedule prior to Thanksgiving break.
For some, like two-time defending GICAA Division II-A champion Central Christian, there may be less of a transition, though even the Lady Crusaders will have to replace a top three-point shooter that set a school record a year ago.
Heritage School should have a chance to return to the GISA state playoffs after a briefer visit than in years past. Trinity Christian begins its first year in the GHSA as a member of Class A-Private with high hopes despite losing 2017-18 Most Valuable Player Abby Bragg, a 20-plus point scorer.
At the GHSA’s highest classifications, East Coweta, Newnan and Northgate will again have to contend with competitive regions.
Yet despite a lack of playoff berths, progress was made, some of which measurable in the win column and others by just the eye test in competitiveness.
Team chemistry could be the key to success as new faces emerge in the lineup while equally, some returning standouts take on larger roles than before. And how a team is playing in early February is more important than a player’s success in late November.
“Basketball is a funny sport. As they say. "It's not always the teams with the best players that win. It's the players with the best team that wins." We want to be the best team we can be,” said Trinity head coach Joe Daniels, who lost both Bragg and All-County center Chandler Hendrix to graduation from a lineup that went 15-7 and placed second behind eventual state champion Holy Spirit in GISA 1-AAA last year. “Our hope is that we just continue to improve with each game, every week. We want our players to work hard every practice to improve individually and as a team.”
Trinity makes the biggest leap among schools, going from the GISA to a private school region in GHSA Class A Private that is loaded with four of the top-10 state-ranked teams led by No. 1 Wesleyan, winners of 13 state titles.
Holy Innocents, Eagle’s Landing Christian and Landmark Christian also expect to be contenders.
The Lady Lions dropped their season opener on Tuesday, falling to Class 5A Jackson 74-22. The Lady Jaguars went 18-7 last year, winning Region 5-6A.
“We will not be the biggest team out there, so we are going to have to outwork the other team every night,” Daniels said. “We have spent a lot of time in the offseason preparing to play better defense. Offensively, we need to make sure that we pay attention to details and execute things well.”
Bragg presence on the floor made her an easy target for teammates, especially on nights where her shooting percentage skyrocketed. But Trinity may have to spread things out more, even with the return of another long-distance sharpshooter in senior Catherine Skebo, who averaged 17 points en route to All-County First-Team honors.
Senior post Kelly Fourman is also back among the starters, while both sophomore Mattie McCracken and senior Destiny de la Cruz were contributors to the Lady Lions success a year ago. McCracken takes a bigger role, however, in point guard duties held mostly by Bragg a year ago.
Daniels called this year’s group “extremely unselfish” while also paying attention to detail.
“They care about each other and have put a lot of work and attention into improving and getting our stuff right this season, “ he added. “Our internal leadership is also doing a good job of holding the team accountable to a standard of how we want to prepare and play.”
Two newer players with a chance to make an impact for Trinity are junior Faith Robertson and freshman Kendall Wells. Robertson hopes to add defensive quickness in addition to helping fill some of the scoring lost to graduation. Wells can add a rebounding presence in the paint that became a staple of Hendrix’s abilities prior to graduation.
Heritage School may not have been hit quite as hard by a loss of seniors than it was heading into 2017-18 among a graduating class led by sisters Kara and Karlee Groover after helping lead a run to a GISA state championship.
Four starters, including a pair of All-County standouts, are back for seventh-year head coach D.J. Clay.
Standout point guard Carissa Vazquez, a First-Team selection, is back after averaging 14.6 points in an 11-8 season that had the Lady Hawks finishing behind Holy Spirit and Trinity Christian in a competitive Region 1-AAA lineup. Junior post Olivia Ayers added some ball-handling duties to her assignments last season while averaging 9.7 points and six rebounds.
Seniors Tricia Underwood and Emily Cushing also return to the starting core in addition to five other contributors that came off the bench for Clay, who again will be keeping defense a focus toward success.
“I think if we can gel early and become a great defensive team, we can position ourselves to make a run at a region title and a final four appearance,” Clay said. “We always discuss putting ourselves in a position to accomplish our goals and I think this team wants to do just that.”
Heritage lost some of that defensive identity a year ago while some of this year’s returning contributors were getting acclimated to heavier playing time.
“We got away from that last year,” he said. “We have to communicate more on the court and we have to know our roles as players and leaders.”
Heritage opens its season Wednesday at home against Furtah Prep. The new Region 1-AAA schedule retains Holy Spirit, Dominion Christian and Atlanta Girls, but adds Creekside Christian, Cristo Rey and Notre Dame Academy.
Central Christian comes off an undefeated 2017-18 season and a 59-1 record over consecutive GICAA championships with a chance to do further damage this winter.
Despite losing Ivy Shepherd, who averaged a team-high 11.8 points-per-game while led by a 32-point outburst last February where she sank 11 of 18 field-goal attempts, the Lady Crusaders retain the bulk of last year’s roster.
It includes eighth-grader Madison Morge, who was right behind Shepard’s point average with 11.6 to go with a team-high 5.4 rebounds. Senior Ana Carter also finished just under a 10 points-per-game average as a starter to go with junior Pistol Brinson (8.5 points-per-game).
Central will compete in the Big South Tournament in Duluth on Dec. 28 among top events while stepping out of league play.
The postseason was out of reach for Coweta’s three public school programs, all of which faced tough competition in region play. East Coweta and Newnan will again be fighting for breathing room in Region 2-7A with the likes of No. 3 state-ranked Westlake and No. 7 Pebblebrook.
Wheeler and Campbell remain equally stingy.
Northgate returns to a group of nine Region 5-6A schools that again expects to be led by defending champion Douglas County. New Manchester, Alexander, Mays and South Paulding all finished with over 10 region victories.
It didn’t stop both the Lady Vikings and Lady Cougars from turning in season-opening victories over Pike County and Creekside, respectively.
East Coweta led Creekside for the majority of regulation in its preseason scrimmage before two hard-fought losses against Fayette County and McIntosh.
Second-year Lady Indians head coach Karen Frady has a mix of veterans and incoming talent among a large freshman class. The returning starters include senior London Fowler and junior Destini Benning. Senior Alex Colton also was a top performer for a lineup that won six games in Frady’s debut.
Six freshmen, including guards Tuianna Taggart and Amya Walker, expect to provide a boost after playing on East Coweta Middle School’s consecutive CCMSAL finalists.
Frady also feels that guard Alexus “Squeak” Sewell is poised for a breakthrough season, calling the junior “our most improved player from over the summer.”
They’re supporting each other and have good attitudes and that’s what I really wanted to change about the system,” Frady added.
Newnan enters its first year with a new coach in former Mundy’s Mill boys assistant Earl Caruthers.
The Lady Cougars graduated one of the largest senior classes in recent years. It included top backcourt duo Jekeria Strickland and Janyah Stargell, both All-County performers, among seven players that closed out varsity careers in 2017-18.
This year’s roster is an opposite mix with seniors Noelle Butts and Hailey Bloom, who returns to the court after a year absence, joined by juniors Iyonna and Deyja Melson. Behind that group are a trip of sophomores including point-guard K.K. Madrey.
Five freshmen include guard Aniya Carter and Joy Butts who played on a CCMSAL title-winning team at Smokey Road with Madrey in 2016-17.
Newnan’s girls opened the season with a 60-48 win over Creekside on Saturday.
“We are young experience-wise, but we play hard and defense and rebounding will be our main focus this season,” Carruthers said.
Hard work immediately paid off for Northgate’s girls in a 78-64 victory over Pike County in Tuesday’s season opener.
A lineup that returned only one starter in Alissa Bolinger had five Lady Vikings contributing to the scoring. But two others, who missed all of last season with injuries, didn’t waste any time getting acclimated.
Senior Gwenyth Cook powered her way to an incredible 43-point effort to lead the opening victory.
“She’s an explosive player with good ball handling skill,” said head coach Marcellous Johnson.
Amelia Smith, who was also out last season, added six points in her return along with Bolinger and Jordan Patterson.
Newcomer Sara Page, a 5-11 post, paced the effort with 14 points and “is versatile enough to handle the ball in a wing position if necessary.”
Johnson said the team has been working on improving its transition game in a region that is loaded with talent.
“We must be more agressive on pushing the ball up the floor on offense looking for a break,” he said. “We must also improve on getting back on defense.”
While not enough to crack the state playoffs, last year’s eight wins were a steady improvement for a group that included seven seniors including All-County players Chasidhe Godfrey and Alexa Wilder, both of whom moved on to college programs.
Johnson said he sees the team at the end of the season “Playing hard, having fun and peaking at the right time playing our best ball of the season.”