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Region 7-AAA: Talented field chasing Buford

POSTED: July 13, 2012 10:39 p.m.

At first glance, the new Region 7-AAA appears to produce an open playoff race for many of the sports.

In football, there are a handful of teams that have performed similarly over the past few years. East Hall, Banks County and Dawson County are recent upstarts, and North Hall, while it has experienced a couple of down years, is historically strong.

Basketball presents one of the most talented regions in the state for boys, and the girls competition is sure to be equally intense. The fact that many of these teams are well acquainted with each other only adds to the drama that is sure to exist.

And then there’s Buford.

The multi-sport juggernaut, reuniting with many teams it shared a region with prior to 2006, has instantly become a standard of excellence for which other teams in the region will strive to attain.

Whether in softball, basketball, football or baseball, the Wolves are the clear leaders of the pack. Talk to most coaches in the region, and they’ll each tell you as much.

“They’re clearly going to be the team to beat in the region,” North Hall football coach Bob Christmas said. “There aren’t many teams they can’t beat in the state at any level. They have great coaching and great athletes.”

East Hall basketball coach Joe Dix said nearly the same thing in reference to Buford’s boys basketball team.

“That’s a team that is as talented as any in the state,” Dix said.

Dawson County’s Thad Burgess, whose basketball team knocked Buford out in the second round of the Class AA state tournament earlier this year, also praised the Wolves program.

“I’ve always thought that Buford, from a talent standpoint, is very good,” he said. “They’re very big and athletic. They lost a couple guys, but they’ve got some big-time players. They’re definitely a favorite.”

The reason for the coaches’ respect is obvious. Buford has won four of the last five state titles in football, five straight in softball and three of four in girls basketball. The boys basketball team lost in the state championship two years ago, while the baseball team won the championship the same year.

And, as always, the teams figure to be very strong in the upcoming seasons.

The Wolves lost most of their defense in football, but will return enough to be the clear favorites in the region. The girls basketball team lost stars like Andraya Carter and Kallie Case, but retained the talents of Kristina Nelson (committed to Notre Dame) and Kaela Davis (No. 2 prospect in the country, according to ESPN.com).

The scarier thought? Buford has already been well-tested across the board in the past and shouldn’t be affected by the move up in classifications.

“The great thing about our situation is that we’ve been playing not just on a state level, but on a national level, as well,” girls basketball coach Gene Durden said. “We’re ready for the challenge because of the brutal schedules we’ve played in the past.”

With all that said, the other teams in the region aren’t rolling over, either. East Hall football coach Bryan Gray said that his team is excited about the opportunity to play against the best.

“Sometimes when someone gets so good, it actually works in the underdog’s favor,” he said. “Our kids know that team’s history, so we don’t have that pressure against us. We’re excited. Our kids talked about playing that team all the time. We want to go out and play the best there is.”

And Christmas said that he thinks having a team like Buford in the region will actually prepare the rest of the teams to play other competition at a much higher level.

“I think when you play good teams, it raises your level of play,” he said. “It raises the level of play in your region.”

He added, however, that the most important thing his team can do is to focus on itself and no one else.

“It’s always been our philosophy to worry about ourselves,” Christmas said. “Just focus on doing the things that we’re capable of doing.”

In football, the region looks to feature a tight race for the three remaining playoff spots behind Buford.

Dawson County appears to be the next in line, coaches agreed, but any of the other teams could figure into the race by season’s end.

“There’s no doubt this race will go down to week nine and 10,” Gray said. “There’s no team you can say is the worst in this region. It’ll be an interesting race. I really think it’ll go all the way to the end.”

The same can be said in basketball, where it appears Region 7-AAA could be among the best in the state.

Along with Buford, there is perennial power East Hall and North Hall, which coaches agreed appeared to be a real challenger in the region. And then there is Dawson County, which surprised everyone with victories over East Hall in the Region 8-AA championship and Buford in the state tournament.

Burgess showed cautious optimism with his team’s prospects in following up the magical run, stating that his team didn’t have the depth some of the other teams did.

“Last year gave us a little hope thinking that we can contend with the East Halls and the Bufords, but those are going to be some top 10 teams,” he said. “North Hall, too. It’s going to be tough to step up, but we do have some confidence. We just won’t surprise anybody this year.”

On the girls side, Buford looks like the favorite, but East Hall and North Hall have had success in recent years, including North Hall’s notable run to the semifinals a year ago.

In any case, the region appears poised for some contentious rivalries, new and old, and coaches couldn’t be more excited.

“Just look at it,” Burgess said. “We should have three top 10 teams, at least. And Dawson County might get in there, too, after our run last year. It’s going to be fun.”


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