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After long layoff, Lakeview Academy basketball teams ready to start playoffs with second-round games
Lions find ways to stay competitive while waiting out first-round bye
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Lakeview's Hanna Grogan (15) dribbles downcourt while being guarded by George Walton's Baylee Bowers (11) during a game Feb. 10 in the Region 8-A Semifinals at Lakeview Academy. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Gainesville vs. Effingham County, 5:30 p.m. Thursday

Flowery Branch girls at Statesboro, 6 p.m. Wednesday
Buford girls vs. Ware County, 6 p.m. Wednesday
Buford boys vs. New Hampstead, 6:30 p.m. Thursday

Class AAAA
West Hall girls vs. Columbus, 7:30 Wednesday

Class AAA
Dawson County girls at Monroe-Albany, 6 p.m. Wednesday
East Hall boys vs. Islands, 5:30 p.m. Thursday
North Hall girls at Johnson-Savannah, 6 p.m. Thursday

Class A Private
Lakeview Academy girls vs. Greenforest, 6 p.m. Wednesday
Lakeview Academy boys vs. Wesleyan, 6:30 p.m. Thursday

To keep his Lakeview Academy girls basketball team sharp for the state playoffs, coach John Carrick needed the help of another one of the school’s squads.

The Lady Lions scrimmaged against the junior varsity boys team, including some eighth- and ninth-graders, three times last week. Senior guard Hanna Grogan described their meetings as fast-paced games, which were just what Lakeview Academy needed during its long layoff.

“It was actually kind of fun,” Grogan said. “We weren’t playing against our teammates, so they didn’t know what to expect. It was kind of like a real game scenario.”

When the No. 3 seed Lady Lions host No. 14 seed Greenforest at 6 p.m. today in the second round of the Class A Private playoffs, 11 days will have passed since their last game — a 41-34 win against Prince Avenue Christian in the Region 8-A tournament championship.

The scrimmages are one strategy Carrick crafted to combat the lack of competition his team faced after receiving a first-round playoff bye.

“You try to present different challenges to the players and try to give little life-lesson lectures as we go on,” Carrick said. “We have not had tests, so to speak, in a while as far as games. You just have to try to tie it into something and hope the kids are listening.”

That’s the same situation for the No. 2 seed Lakeview Academy boys (23-5), who have to wait even longer for their second-round game against 15th-seeded Wesleyan at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

Lions coach Todd Cottrell said he and his staff have “battled with” how to maintain the team’s focus and intensity during what will be a 12-day break. Last week, when Lakeview Academy’s playoff opponent was still undetermined, coaches mixed intrasquad scrimmages with highly detailed skill work in areas they felt needed improving.

“The time off has been challenging, but we’ve chosen to take the time to work on us,” Cottrell said. “ … This time of year, trying to keep them fresh and sharp and focused is probably the biggest challenge. I think we were able to do that, for the most part.”

But there’s a flipside to the hurdles of such a lengthy lull, which Cottrell and Carrick both acknowledged.

On top of guaranteeing a spot in the second round, the first-round bye granted players an extra five or six days of rest, depending on when games are scheduled. After a full season and an often taxing region tournament, the rejuvenating respite can propel a playoff push.

The Lady Lions (24-4) have certainly enjoyed that perk.

“I feel like we’ve all recovered, and we’re looking really good. I would say we’re healthy,” said Grogan, the school’s all-time leading scorer. “The week off helped us with our classes, too, because that can be hard around the playoffs.”

The extended hiatus also gave both squads extra time to prepare for their possible opponents. Carrick even scouted Greenforest (12-8) in person, attending the Eagles’ 55-39 win against Our Lady of Mercy in the first round last Friday.

Cottrell, meanwhile, has seen enough film to be convinced Wesleyan (17-11) is better than its playoff seeding. The Wolves, who Cottrell said dealt with injuries throughout the year, topped Savannah Christian 68-33 in the first round last Saturday.

They’re standing in the way of the Lions’ second-straight trip to the quarterfinals, where both the boys and girls lost last year.

Those neutral-site games occurred at Kennesaw State under the old playoff format, but if Lakeview Academy returns to that stage, its teams will play host thanks to higher seeding. After seasons that included undefeated records in region play, the Lions and Lady Lions are hoping to turn their playoff experience and homecourt advantage into a semifinal appearance.

But first, the tactics they employed during their layoff will have to pay off.

“If you’re not excited for the state tournament, then there are issues before we even start playing,” Cottrell said. “I’m not worried about our guys being ready to play emotionally.”

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