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West Hall, North Hall seek road victories in first round

Spartans back in playoffs first time since 2002

POSTED: November 14, 2013 6:18 p.m.

After enduring eight losing seasons in the past 10 years, West Hall will make its return to the playoffs tonight with a visit to second-ranked Cartersville.

It will be the school’s first playoff appearance since Nov. 22, 2002, and it’s all part of a plan implemented by Spartans coach Tony Lotti.

“We started changing our thinking around here a little bit, as far our perceptions of ourselves and our expectation levels,” Lotti said, of when he was named the head coach in 2012. “I came in here and I had high expectations.

“I just believed in it and we’ve worked real hard. And I think the kids believe in it, too.”

With what was described as a three-year plan in place, and with his players devoted to the program, Lotti has been able to do something that the four previous coaches at West Hall were unable to do: Post a winning record and secure a playoff berth.

The ability to take over a team with a losing record and lead it to the playoffs in just his second season places Lotti in company with another successful Hall County coach — North Hall’s Bob Christmas.

Christmas took over at North Hall in 2001, after the Trojans went winless in 2000. In just his second season, Christmas guided to the Trojans to an 8-3 record and a road playoff berth. Christmas and Lotti are the only coaches in Hall County to accomplish such a feat since 2000.

“I’m real proud of Tony. He’s done a great job,” Christmas said. “I think he’s done it pretty much the same way. You set a high standard and you expect all your kids to meet the standard. If they don’t want to do it, you tell them to go do (something) they want to do, but they’re going to have to do it your way.

“And then you sell them on the fact that they can be successful, just like anybody else can.”

That foundational standard implemented by Christmas at North Hall has paid off. The Trojans have recorded an 88-31 record since 2003 and are back in the playoffs for the ninth time in 12 seasons.

The one thing that has eluded the Trojans, though, has been a road playoff victory.

North Hall (8-2) has never won a road playoff game, a piece of history the Trojans hope to change tonight with a visit to Ringgold (8-2).

“We went to Cedartown (in 2002),” Christmas recalled. “That has been a long time ago. Ironically, we lost that game, and so we have not won a road playoff game. So this will be a first for us.”

A victory tonight would give the Trojans a potential chance to host a second round game at The Brickyard, a place where the Trojans have won 10 straight playoff games, dating back to 2006.

“Our kids are pretty good at traveling, but for our kids, there is nothing like playing in The Brickyard,” Christmas said. “They absolutely love that. And what I’ve told them is, ‘We’ve got a chance to play another game here. If Cedar Grove is able to beat Elbert County, and I think that’s a possibility, and we get past the first round, then we’d be home for the second round.’

“And that’s a motivation for our kids right there.”

The motivation for Lotti and West Hall is to keep the momentum from a winning season going another for at least another week. It won’t be easy.

The Spartans face the daunting task of upsetting second-ranked Cartersville. The Purple Hurricanes are a perfect 10-0 and have scored 40 or more points in eight of their 10 games, eclipsing the 60-point mark twice and the 70-point mark once, en route to a Region 5 championship.

Lotti said that no matter what the outcome is tonight, though, this season has reset the foundation for success at West Hall. A foundation of success that started with his three-year plan he implemented when he came to Oakwood in 2012.

“A big part of it is there is a logical progression, I feel like, in establishing success,” Lotti said. “And one thing I talked about, and it will be a major focus as we go on from here, is what I’ve told the guys since the first day: ‘I’m not building a team. We’re building a program.’”


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