As Julianne Sutton walked off the court of the University of North Georgia’s 59-45 win over UNC Pembroke last Saturday, fellow junior Abbie Franklin approached her in mock frustration.
“Why couldn’t you just score 5 more points?” Sutton — a Flowery Branch graduate — recalled Franklin asking.
“What?” she responded. “Why?”
Though she is still early in her third year playing for the Lady Nighthawks, Sutton’s 21 points against Pembroke brought her to 995 on her career, just a few buckets away from reaching 1,000.
It’s a career milestone that Franklin and UNG assistant coach Jaymee Acton had been following closely, though Sutton was a little bit less aware of it looming around the corner.
“I had no idea,” she said.
Sutton’s bid for 1,000 points has been hurried along by a statistical outburst this season following the graduation of three senior starters after last year. Through 11 contests, she leads all Lady Nighthawks in points, field goal percentage and blocks, and is second on the team in rebounds. She has scored in double-digits in all of North Georgia’s games.
Along with the improved numbers, Sutton has also had to take on an entirely new leadership role with the Lady Nighthawks this year. The team lost its first, third and fifth leading scorers from last season to graduation, and this year’s squad doesn’t have any seniors.
As juniors and the two most experienced members of the bunch, Sutton and Franklin have become de facto leaders on a young but talented team.
“It’s just been a different feel,” Sutton said. “I know me and Abbie (Franklin) have talked about that. We’re just trying to navigate that world of being the leaders on the team. We’ve been here for three years, so just trying to take on that leadership role and take the team in the direction it’s been going for years.”
So far, they’ve been succeeding.
A season after making it all the way to the Division II championship game, the Lady Nighthawks are 10-1 and enter their winter break on a four-game winning streak. Sutton said the closeness of the players has played the biggest part in the hot streak, noting that none of her scoring would be possible without her teammates.
“I don’t bring the ball up the floor or anything,” she said. “I just get the passes at the end, and my job is just to put them in the basket, finish them for my team.”
Now, she’s just a few finishes away from reaching a milestone that will forever place her among North Georgia’s all-time best.
Sutton will have a chance to surpass 1,000 on Jan. 4 when the Lady Nighthawks host Flagler College. Her parents will be there to watch it happen, and Sutton said she’s most looking forward to being able to share the moment with them and her teammates.
Outside of that, she’s put emotional expectations and celebration plans to the side.
“I’m just trying not to jinx it,” she said. “I’ve still got to get the 5 points. Just trying to go out there and make the 5 points. That’s all that’s on my mind.”