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HS basketball: Chestatee girls among local teams looking to keep state run alive
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Girls state basketball playoffs


Calhoun County girls at Towns County, 5 p.m.

Elbert County girls at Buford, 6 p.m.

Chestatee girls at River Ridge, 7 p.m.

Dawson County girls at North Oconee, 7 p.m.

For the third time in four years and fourth time overall, the Chestatee girls are back in the second round of the state basketball tournament.

Up to this point, it’s been the ceiling for the Lady War Eagles program.

Now, a group of six seniors are looking to lead this team to a historic win when they play River Ridge at 7 p.m. Friday in Woodstock.

And while they’re the lower seed in the matchup and lost to the Knights 47-34 earlier in the season, War Eagles coach Web Daniel said this is their best shot yet to break through that second-round barrier.

“They’re pretty fundamentally sound, they have decent size down low and they play decent team basketball,” Daniel said of the Knights. “But they’re not overwhelmingly athletic for us. This is the first time we’ve played a team similar athletically (in the second round).”

Daniel said Chestatee (23-6) has been overwhelmed in the second round by superior athletic teams in the past, including a 50-34 loss to Troup County last season after the Lady War Eagles had held off Gilmer 37-33 in the opening round.

Chestatee defeated Columbus 48-37 on Tuesday in the opening round.

Daniel added that his optimism is based as much on his own team’s makeup as much as the opponent.

“We have more scorers and we play better team ball,” he said. “We don’t have that go-to scorer, but overall as a team we play better, and we have better point guard play.”

Not to mention that this team, from senior forward Maegan Kenimer to guards Bridgette Kelly and Sam Brown, among others, has simply been there before.

So have two of three other area girls basketball teams playing Friday. The Buford girls were runners-up last season and won the three state titles prior to that, and the Towns County girls have been to at least the second round since the 2007-2008 season.

The Lady Wolves (23-4) lost one of the nation’s top players in senior Kaela Davis due to personal reasons before the region tournament, but still have Notre Dame recruit Kristina Nelson and a host of other talented players ready to make another run. The Region 7-AAA champs defeated Woodward Academy 56-38 in the opening round Tuesday and play host to Elbert County at 6 p.m. Friday in Buford.

The Lady Wolves have won nine straight and 17 of 18.

Region 8-A champion Towns County (24-4) has been nearly as good entering the first round of the 16-team Class A public school state tournament. The No. 2-seeded Lady Indians have won eight straight and 10 of 11. They play host to No. 15 Calhoun County at 5 p.m. Friday, one of two home state tournament games Towns County will have if it can win its first round game for the sixth consecutive season.

“Home court advantage is always big, especially now with the power ratings,” Lady Indians coach Jim Melton said. “They’re going to have a six or seven hour bus ride up here, and it’s a lot easier to sleep in your own bed.”

Melton also likes the new format for the Class A tournament installed this season, which includes a power rating system that ranks tournament teams from 1-16 based on its rating. Instead of Towns County playing a No. 4 seed from another region, the Lady Indians are playing the second-lowest ranked tournament team. But Melton said Calhoun County is not the easiest draw, as it boasts one of the region’s best players.

“I actually like this format,” he said. “It’s more like an NCAA format.”

If they win, the Lady Indians would play either No. 7 Claxton or No. 10 Treutlen in the second round. The one team they won’t be seeing no matter how far they get is a private school, thanks to the split in the championships starting this season.

Asked whether or not it would help Towns County, Melton put it in simple terms.

“I do not remember being put out in the state tournament by a public team,” he said. “Our losses the last few years have all been to private teams.”

That’s been the case since at least the 2006-2007 season, making the chances of Towns County’s latest state run hard to determine.

“It definitely adds a new twist,” Melton said.

For No. 2 seed Dawson County (24-5), which plays top-seeded North Oconee at 7 p.m. Friday in the Class AAA tournament in Bogart, just reaching the postseason is a new twist.

Lady Tigers coach Steve Sweat said it’s been 11 years since the program last reached the state tournament, let alone the second round, where Dawson County now is after defeating Blessed Trinity 68-54 on Tuesday.

Sweat, who also coached at Dawson County back in the 1980s but was most recently at West Hall before returning to the Lady Tigers for the 2006-2007 season, said the team has already gotten over the initial shock of getting to state.

“It was very exciting for these kids, because none of them have been to the state tournament before in basketball,” he said. “Getting there was part of the initial shock. Now they’ve seen that they can play with people in the state tournament, they don’t seem to have a problem with it.

“Now that their in it, they just want to win.”

Dawson County, which boasts a balanced team led inside by Sheyenne Seabolt and outside by Carly Gilreath, aren’t thinking like a first-time state team anymore.

“This team has come together, really close, and they just want to win the next game,” Sweat said. “They want to play, they want to win, and I like that. And we expect to win the game.”

The Lady Tigers’ big goal this season was simply to reach state, a goal which they’ve already reached.

The Lady War Eagles are still looking up at that last big goal. They finally won the Lanierland Tournament and finished first in the region at the end of the regular season before faltering in the region title game.

They didn’t hit every regular season goal — although they came close — but now all that remains is the final goal.

“We want to get past this round here, and from that point on we’ll see what happens,” Daniel said. “This could almost be our championship game, that’s how big of a goal for us it is to get past this round.”

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