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Flowery Branch grad leading the way as University of North Georgia pursues Division II national title
Julianne Sutton is the Southeast Regional Most Outstanding Player
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University of North Georgia's Julianne Sutton, a Flowery Branch High graduate, looks to pass against Lander University during the Southeast Regional of the Division II NCAA Tournament March 16 in Anderson, SC.

It’s been a surreal week for North Georgia basketball player and Flowery Branch grad Julianne Sutton. 

After the Lady Nighthawks won the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional on Monday, Sutton didn’t think things could get much better. 

“This whole season has been put into that moment,” she said. “Just the fact that we were able to get it done, and when that buzzer went off for the last time, we were all just so excited, from players all the way up to coaches. Everything that we had worked for had paid off.”

When she was named Most Outstanding Player at the event after averaging 21 points and eight rebounds over three games, Sutton reached an entirely new emotional high. 

It was an award Sutton didn’t see coming herself, although one of her teammates did. 

“Amber Skidgel was sitting next to me, and she was like, ‘Oh, it’s you. It has to be you. There’s no way it’s not you,’” Sutton said. “I was like ‘No, it’s not me. There’s no way it’s me.’ And then they called my name and all my teammates just started cheering for me, patting me on the back and everything. It was amazing.”

The win sends North Georgia to the NCAA Division II quarterfinals for the first time in program history. The Lady Nighthawks will take on Lubbock Christian on Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. in Columbus, Ohio. 

Sutton said that since she and her teammates have returned to classes, North Georgia’s campus has shown the team plenty of love as it prepares for the biggest game its ever played. 

“It’s so exciting right now, in practice, around school and around town,” Sutton said. “Me and Tamera (Thorpe) were getting out of class the other day, and we had professors coming out of classrooms just to congratulate us. It’s been pretty amazing.”

In the final days before the team heads north for the Division II Elite Eight, Sutton said the Lady Nighthawks have been focusing on themselves, rather than over preparing for their upcoming opponent. 

It’s a strategy that has gotten North Georgia this far, and not one that it will not be shying away from going forward.

“We’re just going to go out there and try to fight hard and go as hard as we can and stick to our game plan,” Sutton said. “We’re not going to try to change it too much, because I think what we’ve got is pretty special.”

If the No. 4-seeded Lady Nighthawks make it through Lubbock Christian, they will most likely have to get past top-seeded Drury to make it to the championship game. If they make it that far, it’s a challenge Sutton says the team will meet head on. 

After all, as Sutton herself said: “We’re not done yet.” 

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