Friday night's eagerly-awaited first matchup between Flowery Branch and Gainesville pairs together the Lanierland tournament champions from the past two seasons.
Then it gets even more interesting.
The Red Elephants and the Falcons tip off Friday night at the Flowery Branch High gym (7 p.m. for girls, 8:30 p.m. for boys) in a rivalry doubleheader that’s gained even more meaning in the past week.
Both Flowery Branch teams pulled off historic victories in the 56th annual Lanierland tournament, and will be looking to bolster their standings in the state rankings ahead of their respective region tournaments.
Meanwhile, both Gainesville teams are seeking redemption. The girls team finished in 3rd place at Lanierland after entering as defending champions, while the boys did not play following a 2-game suspension stemming from an altercation at a holiday tournament in Kentucky last month.
Gainesville earned single-season series wins against both Flowery Branch teams last season, but the Falcons and Lady Falcons have improved by leaps and bounds in 2015-16. First-year coach Courtney Newton has led her undefeated Lady Falcons (16-0, 6-0 Region 8-AAAAA) to a No. 2 ranking in Class AAAAA.
GAINESVILLE GIRLS AT FLOWERY BRANCH, 7 P.M.
Records: Gainesville (9-3, 6-0 Region 8-AAAAA); Flowery Branch (16-0, 6-0)
Likely starters: Gainesville: Taylor Hawks, Kayla Kelly, Breana Fair, Shikiya Brown, Tija Blackwell; Flowery Branch: Maddie Hetzel, Lexie Sengkhammee, Taniyah Worth, Kierra Knight, Julianne Sutton
What’s at stake: Flowery Branch is currently ranked No. 2 in the classification, according to Maxpreps. A win here could help bolster its case to surpass Glynn Academy (14-1) at the top of the heap. Meanwhile, a Gainesville win would give the Lady Red Elephants a lot of confidence heading into a dangerous region slate.
X-factor: While Worth and Sutton are typically the high scorers for Flowery Branch, Hetzel and Sengkhammee allow the offense to thrive. Sengkhammee has done a great job in her adjustment to point guard, while Hetzel is a bulldog on defense, turning steals into points. Hetzel is a University of North Georgia signee. For Gainesville, Brown is an accurate shot from beyond the arc. If she can get in a rhythm, Big Red is hard to slow down.
Recent history: This is the first meeting between both teams this season. They will meet again on Jan. 26 at Gainesville High. Gainesville won three of four meetings between the two teams last season, including a 45-39 victory in the region tournament.
GAINESVILLE BOYS AT FLOWERY BRANCH, 8:30 P.M.
Records: Gainesville (7-3, 6-0 in Region 8-AAAAA); Flowery Branch (10-6, 1-5)
Likely starters: Gainesville: D’Marcus Simonds, Tae Turner, Messiah Dorsey, KJ Buffen, Bailey Minor; Flowery Branch: John Mills, Gabe Holston, Brannon Clark, Trey Bailey, Chris Garcia
What’s at stake: Gainesville is currently ranked No. 8 in Class AAAAA, according to Maxpreps, as well as 27th in the state. Knocking off the new Lanierland champion would give Gainesville a nice feather in its cap heading into the rest of the 8-AAAAA schedule. A Falcons win would allow Flowery Branch to truly declare its reign as the best boys team in Hall County.
X-factor: Don’t sleep on Gainesville’s shooters. Messiah Dorsey, KJ Buffen and Bailey Minor all have a sweet swish inside and outside of the arc. Turner, a move-in from Lakeview Academy, can move defense into attack with a single move for the Red Elephants. For Flowery Branch, Mills is an offensive threat who is hard to stop. Bailey and Garcia are strong rebounders who can work hard up and down the court.
Recent history: This is the first meeting between both teams this season. They will meet again on Jan. 26 at Gainesville High. Gainesville swept both meetings between the two teams last season, winning by an average of 23 points per game.