One year has made a world of difference for the North Hall and Jefferson boys basketball programs.
After reaching the state semifinals in 2010, both teams are mired in an up and down season that has each hovering around .500.
The Trojans enter tonight’s game against Stephens County with a 10-6 record (2-1 Region 8A-AAA) and losers of five of their last nine games. Last year, North Hall was 15-2 at this point in the season and well on its way to a region title and berth in the Class AAA tournament. The Trojans run ended with a 60-49 loss to LaGrange in the semifinals.
“This is a completely different team than last year,” coach Benjie Wood said. “Obviously, we’re not where we intended to be, but we’re not in bad shape.”
Last year’s success created a wealth of expectations for North Hall, which despite losing six seniors, were ranked as high as No. 2 in the state after starting the year 6-1.
But it’s been a rollercoaster of a season since, with the low point coming during the Lanierland finals when the Trojans suffered their worst loss of the year, a 76-43 defeat at the hands of East Hall. The Trojans lost three of their next four following Lanierland, but Wood says those four losses, plus the other two aren’t indicative of his team’s season.
“It’s not like we’ve been beat by bad teams,” Wood said. “Our six losses are to six quality teams.”
Wood’s squad did put together a three game winning streak prior to last week’s snow storm, but that ended Tuesday with a 60-51 loss to Franklin County, the first place team in the north subregion.
“It’s just been a weird year for everybody,” Wood said. “We’re 10-6, but of those six losses, five we were right in it.
“We’re not playing as good of defense as we did last year,” he added. “We need more urgency on the defensive end of the floor.”
Things don’t get any easier for North Hall as the season progresses, as the Trojans have to play at No. 3 Wesleyan on Saturday, at home against East Hall on Jan. 29, and at Franklin County in the next to the last game of the year on Feb. 4.
The Trojans can take solace in the fact they are not the only final four team struggling this season. After beating current No. 5 West Hall to start the season, the Jefferson Dragons have lost six of their last eight games.
The Dragons (7-9, 2-3 Region 8A-AA) snapped a four-game losing streak Tuesday with a 94-75 win over Oglethorpe County.
That point total epitomizes the current issue at Jefferson. The Dragons have scored more than 80 points three times this year, but Tuesday was the only such game they won. In their nine losses, the Dragons are scoring an average of 59 points, while surrendering 67. Those averages reverse in the seven wins.
A big reason for their struggles might be due to the graduation of two of last year’s stars, Darius Minor and J.J. Damons, who averaged a combined 33.5 points and nearly 20 rebounds per game.
Jefferson was only 10-6 this time last year, but it was at the beginning of an 18-game winning streak that ended with a loss to Thomasville in the Class AA semifinals.
ONE-SIDED REGION: Despite being divided into two subregions, Region 8-AA is about as lopsided as it gets.
The north side of the region boast two ranked boys teams and two ranked girls teams, including No. 3 Rabun County (15-0, 1-0) and No. 6 Fannin County (14-0, 3-0). Throw in a pair of 7-6 teams in East Hall and Union County, and it appears as if the region champion is definitely coming from this side of the region. Sure, No. 8 North Oconee (12-3, 3-1) and Jefferson (11-5, 4-1) reside in the south subregion, but the quality of the girls teams on the north side is top notch.
The same can be said about the boys’ side, which boasts No. 7 East Hall (11-4, 3-0), No. 8 Union County (13-0, 1-0), Rabun County (11-5, 1-0) and Dawson County (11-4, 1-2). Those four teams are all above .500 and are all poised to reach the state tournament. The south subregion contains only two teams above .500 in first-place Hart County (8-5, 4-0) and Jackson County (9-7, 3-2), which had won nine of 10 games before dropping two straight.
Needless to say, all eight teams from Region 8A-AA should be the favorites to reach the state tournament if the bracket allows it.
CHALLENGERS WANTED: While Region 8-AA is filled with talented teams all capable of winning the region, the girls portion of Region 8-AAA is complete opposite.
Two teams are running away with their respective subregions, with the No. 8 Chestatee Lady War Eagles leading the North and the No. 3 Walnut Grove Lady Warriors controlling the South.
The Lady War Eagles (15-2, 3-0 Region 8A-AAA) have won six straight by an average of 18 points, and their 15-2 record is the only above-.500 record in the subregion. With the inside presence of Peyton Robertson, combined with a wealth of perimeter shooting, Chestatee has all but locked up its second straight subregion title and is poised to be one of the final two teams standing in the region tournament.
The other team is Walnut Grove (17-0, 5-0 Region 8B-AAA), which despite being in its second year of existence, is making its mark on a subregion filled with former region champions like Gainesville and West Hall.
Currently, the Lady Warriors are the only team in that subregion, beside Johnson, with an overall record above .500.
With players like Gia Banks, Morgan Demilio and Am Green Jones, Walnut Grove has the talent and athleticism to give Chestatee a run for the region title, and it has plenty of size in sophomore Miaya Crowder to negate Robertson. Plenty has to happen for these two teams to meet in the finals, but based on how they’re playing now, the girls region title should be between the Lady Warriors and Lady War Eagles.