January is more than halfway done, and the madness is nearly here.
Yes, a full month before college basketball’s March Madness, the chaos of February’s region tournaments will arrive for high school programs throughout Hall County. And while every school will have a shot at its region title, the Lakeview Academy boys and girls programs might be best positioned to earn one of the top spots to the state playoffs.
The Lions and Lady Lions enter the home stretch of the season a perfect 10-0 combined in Region 8-A games, and both are sitting in first place in their region.
As the wins continue to pile up, other members of the region have started to take notice.
“At Lakeview, we have the X on our back,” Lady Lions coach John Carrick said. “... I tell our kids, you’ve got two Xs, three Xs. You’ve got Xs all over your back. Everybody’s out to get you. You have an off night, you’re going to lose.”
Over the past four years, neither team has had many off nights.
In the last 3 1/2 seasons, the Lakeview Academy boys are a perfect 48-0 in region contests. The girls team has been nearly as dominant, going 43-2 in its most recent 45 bouts against Class 8-A opponents.
“We’ve really had a perfect storm here at Lakeview,” Lions coach Todd Cottrell said. “We’ve had really good players and really good teams at the right time.”
Things have been much the same for the girls team, which goes eight deep and has seen substantial improvement to its press defense as the season has gone on, according to Carrick.
“Quite honestly, we have a pretty good team,” he said.
Beyond having good players, the winning culture Cottrell and Carrick have established in their programs has compounded on itself over the years.
As the teams kept playing well, victories came to be expected, but never any less sought after.
“Any win is good,” Carrick said. “It’s kind of like oxygen. You need it, and it feels good and it makes you happy.”
With such a long streak of success going for both squads, both Cottrell and Carrick stressed the importance of staying focused on the present rather than growing complacent due to past success.
That won’t be a problem for a boys team that faces stiff region competition from a resurgent Riverside Military squad right down the road, and was brought down to the wire in a one-point win over Prince Avenue Christian on Tuesday.
“There is just so much parity in our league,” Cottrell said. “Any of the top teams, almost seven teams down, has a chance to win this region. ... Our guys know we’re going to have to scratch and claw to win it this year.”
For the Lady Lions — who have won 15 of their last 17 contests and have beaten their five region opponents by an average of more than 32 points — staying on their toes could be tougher.
Still, Carrick has a plan to make sure his team keeps looking forward.
“You have to talk to them sternly, run them profusely and just don’t congratulate them until it’s over,” he said. “Yes, you’ve got to give some positive feedback, but for the most part you’re wanting more out of them. You can’t be complacent.”
Both squads have put together runs that every team member has reason to be proud of. But with plenty of basketball left to play in this season, that’s not something either program is concerning itself with.
There will be time for pride later.
“You can’t look ahead to this, behind to that,” Carrick said. “Let’s just play for today.”