Last season ended in heartbreaking fashion for the Flowery Branch High girls basketball team.
But it might have really been the start of something big for the program.
Despite coming up short in their first-ever state semifinal appearance, the Lady Falcons carry over great expectations and belief from the now-departed senior class that included Julianne Sutton, who now plays at the University of North Georgia. It’s up to this year’s bunch to keep it going.
“Last year was definitely a momentum-builder for our program, making it to our first-ever final four,” Flowery Branch coach Courtney Newton-Gonzalez said. “Those seniors worked hard to start a tradition, and made sure that what they worked for four years paid off.
“So We’re excited about what we have coming in, and we’ll obviously miss that group that graduated last year, but (we) have a great group coming back.”
The Falcons coach returns much of the roster responsible for last year’s historic run. Those same junior and sophomore pieces are now a seasoned squad, becoming vocal leaders and mentors on the practice court this offseason, said Newton-Gonzalez.
All-state forward Taniyah Worth (15.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game last season) leads this year’s flock in taking the next step toward the program’s first state championship. The Falcons’ scoring phenom — who recorded a 33-point, seven-rebound outing against defending Class 5A champion Southwest Dekalb at Columbus State University in March — enters her final season as arguably the most talented in the area.
She used the summer to hone her skills with the Innerman Academy Adidas Gauntlet travel team, and earlier this month, signed to play for the University of Alabama.
“(Taniyah) knows that she has a lot to look forward to, and has matured,” Newton-Gonzalez said of Worth. “She’s focused along with our other seniors.”
Those include senior Lexie Sengkhammee, who has yet to miss a start in her varsity career. The short but shifty distributor will continue to be the Falcons’ “ultimate” point guard and 3-point shooter, Newton-Gonzalez said. The coach also noted big improvements from senior Carly Shaw, another player expected to see valuable minutes on the floor.
But Newton-Gonzalez especially foresees big things from juniors Caroline Wysocki and Ashley Woodroffe. Wysocki is clearly settled just two games in with 18- and 19-point outings this year.
It hasn’t been a bad start at all for Flowery Branch (2-0), which swooped into this season ranked No. 2 behind defending Class 5A champion Buford. An ego-boosting win over third-ranked Carrollton last weekend is telling.
The Falcons continue what Newton-Gonzalez called an “amped up” non-region schedule with Lanier today, then play Class 6A No. 2 Winder-Barrow and top-ranked Northview before their Region 8-5A opener versus Johnson.
“We know our region is the toughest in the state,” the coach said. “Our non-region schedule is really what we amped up this year. ... I’m hoping those games will prepare us for the region and ... playoff play.”
Here’s a look at other Hall County girls basketball teams and their outlooks for 2017-18:
It’s back to square one for John Carrick and his Lady Lions in 2017-18, as their coach put it Tuesday.
Last year, the Lady Lions reached the state semifinal of the Class A Private schools tournament for only the second time in the program’s existence before falling short. And given the departure of Lakeview’s “Big Three” — Hanna Grogan, Christen Copeland and Ryann Moody — after that run, the rebuild is officially underway as the Lady Lions look ahead to one of the tougher non-region slates.
A 10-point loss to Rabun County and loss to Class 7A Norcross earlier in the week at the Piedmont College Showcase tournament gave Carrick the feeling that this year’s growth will be a slow one.
The next games on the docket before beginning Region 8-A play will include a clash with St. Francis, ranked No. 3 by Score Atlanta, after joining Lakeview Academy in the state semifinals the previous season, and Class 3A Blessed Trinity before opening region play against Towns County on Dec. 8.
The Lady Lions were ranked No. 9 in Week 1 this season.
Besides welcoming back seniors Tori Taylor and Maddie Blackburn, Carrick expects sophomore Jackie Allen to assume the point guard duties in place of Copeland, who now plays at Georgia College. Junior Sadie Thrailkill in the post and sophomore Maddy Towles will also play key roles on the floor.
The Lady Lions will also be seeking different ways to win games without the scoring tenacity of Grogan, Moody and Copeland.
“We hope to be a good defensive team. We have a press that works for us most of the time — and shooting every now and then, when we can,” Carrick said. “We’re gonna have to win on defense.”
Things didn’t quite unfold the way East Hall had hoped down the final stretch last season.
The Lady Vikings, unbeaten in Region 7-3A, stumbled late and were handed a No. 4 playoff seeding before an abrupt first-round exit in the playoffs.
East Hall coach Justin Wheeler still expects to see better results now that he returns all but one (Kylah Mize) of his key playmakers from last season, including four starters and 12 players.
One of those individuals is Georgia State signee Carly Winters, who averaged 16 points for the Lady Vikings as a junior and is strong along the perimeter as the school’s record-holder for most 3s in a game (10). Wheeler also welcomes back senior guard Summer Lindsay, wing player Macy Thomas, Maggie Griffith and guard Jenny Lopez, who earned her way into the starting lineup over the course of last season and provides leadership as a team captain.
It’s no surprise who the star of the show will be for West Hall this season.
Anna McKendree, an All-State guard and the school’s all-time leading scorer, is all that remains from last year’s starting five that led the Lady Spartans program to runner-up finish at Lanierland, a Region 7-4A title and second-round playoff appearance. The question that remains is how well this young supporting cast will hold up in coach Bryan Richerson’s fifth season at the helm.
It could be senior guard Kylie Passmore, junior Kylie Stasierowski and sophomores Kinsey Wilson (forward), Aashyah White (guard) and Cadie Shirley (forward). Only time will tell if these new pieces will fill the shoes of those lost to graduation — Macy Passmore, Avery Prather, Meagan English and Danielle Hinkelman.
So far, West Hall’s young support has been up to the task this year with a 4-0 mark in holiday tournament play.
Kristi House couldn’t point out one superstar on her current roster. But that doesn’t mean North Hall is without capable playmakers this season.
House’s senior-laden team last year capped a 19-win campaign with a second-round loss to Johnson-Savannah in the Class 3A playoffs. Now she’s left to fill six of those holes once occupied by Taylor Anne Kelley, Sadie Cleveland and Tatum McQuillen.
House expects to see a more balanced attack out of her cohesive, hard-working unit while running the floor.
“We feel good about what we have going on, and some people have really stepped up,” House said. “It could be a number of people stepping up on any given night.”
Juniors Ansleigh Ferguson and Macy Clark, senior guards Camilla Howell and Natalie Nixon and sophomore Maci Gillespie are pieces House expects to fill the stat sheets each night and help the Lady Trojans replicate, if not top, last season’s success.
The Lady War Eagles are so far not phased one bit by their recent coaching change.
Shortly after interim coach Chris Guthrie took over the program, he glimpsed a squad capable of scoring points and locking down its end of the floor in a 30-point win over Osborne last weekend. It’s still early, but even the loftiest of goals seem attainable at this point, said Guthrie. But the Lady War Eagles still have to go through reigning Region 7-4A champion West Hall to win a region title.
“I think we have a good a shot as anybody to win our region,” Guthrie said. “Finishing in the top two spots is a good aspiration.”
Guthrie doesn’t plan to change the current system but will rely on the same veteran leadership that helped Chestatee to a 21-win season and a No. 3 playoff seed a year ago. Despite losing Becca Eddins and Dawndria Bell to graduation, the first-year coach welcomes back staples Peri Satterfield and all-purpose guard Lindsay Caudell, who climbed within 27 points of 1,000 for her varsity career this past week.
Chestatee (1-2) will also implement a “point guard by committee” approach as the season progresses, Guthrie said, as he identified several players capable of facilitating the role.
Despite losing one of the program’s best in Taylor Hawks, seventh-year coach Brenda Hill-Gilmore will look to select few to shine for Gainesville as it begins a temporary rebuild in 2017-18: Junior guard Tija Blackwell, senior point guard Jada Harrison, junior guard Tia Shelton and Tiya Cantrell.
Hawks, now at Jacksonville State, finished with more than 1,500 career points after boosting the Lady Red Elephants to a runner-up honors in Region 8-6A and a berth in the Class 6A tournament.
Former Flowery Branch boys coach Duke Mullis takes the reins as head coach for a Johnson program that went winless in 2016-17. He brings a wealth coaching experience and expertise according to Johnson athletic director Jonathan Edwards, and has built up a 378-235 record across coaching stints with several schools.
The Lady Knights (0-1) hosts Chestatee on Tuesday in Oakwood.