As a University of Alabama graduate, Flowery Branch girls basketball coach Hazel Hall is a student of the Nick Saban philosophy.
Hall follows the Crimson Tide football coach’s stance on winning and success — no matter how well the team is playing or how big the lead is, there’s always something to improve on. Future goals are never a focus until present goals have been met.
For both teams, that mindset appears to be working. Alabama has won three of the last four national titles, and Flowery Branch has enjoyed unprecedented success in its first three months of the season.
The Lady Falcons are 18-1 on the year, remaining perfect in Region 8-AAAAA play with a 12-0 record. They’re beating opponents by a larger clip than any other team in the region, with an average margin of victory teetering just over 20 points per game.
Flowery Branch appears well on its way to a second straight 20-win season, and there’s no disguising the effect Hall’s philosophy, borrowed from her alma mater’s football coach, is having on her players.
“I’m always looking for something that we need to improve on,” Hall said. “When we are in the moment, whatever the moment, that’s where we are. We’re not going any further forward.”
Such was the case in Flowery Branch’s 69-19 win over Winder-Barrow on Friday. The Lady Falcons controlled almost every aspect of the game and had a victory wrapped up by halftime with a 44-5 lead. They outscored the Lady Bulldoggs 30-5 in the first quarter and kept their opponent completely off the scoreboard in the second quarter.
Yet up until the final minute of play, Hall continued to cycle in her starters with her reserve players. Everyone got a chance to keep playing, because everyone in the lineup had something she wanted to see improved.
Of course, Flowery Branch did let off the gas a bit in the second half, but the Lady Falcons’ 50-point win ended up being their biggest of the season, and their 69 points matched a 69-28 win over Loganville last Tuesday as a season-high in scoring.
The end result of the massive victory was some impressive numbers on the score sheet. Three different players reached double figures, and all but three players contributed with points.
While having multiple double-digit scorers is a common occurrence for Flowery Branch, who scored the points is what separates the Lady Falcons from other high school basketball teams. Heather Moore, typically used in a reserve role, came off the bench and led her team with 16 points. She hit three 3-pointers and went 5 for 6 from the free-throw line.
Jacy Ramey added 14 points and Dani Lacko chipped in 13 points. Both players are starters, but neither reached those numbers against Loganville on Tuesday, or even last Saturday’s game against Lanier.
Instead, Flowery Branch remained successful by doing what they do best — getting everyone involved. Over three games in the span of a week, five different players reached double figures.
Last Saturday’s game saw Marissa Ivey set career-highs in scoring with 32 points, sinking six 3-pointers in the process and another five baskets from field-goal range. She scored another 19 against Loganville last Tuesday and matched that total against Apalachee a week later. Tavia Sykes, Flowery Branch’s primary offensive threat in the early stages of the season, scored 13 on Tuesday and also tallied 15 last week.
Freshman Breanna Locke has also hit the double-digit barrier this season, most recently knocking down 10 against Lanier last Saturday.
“As long as it gets done, they don’t care who does it,” Hall said. “If we had somebody that averaged a lot of points, they would care, if that’s how we played.”
But it isn’t how they play, and it’s creating frustration for Flowery Branch opponents in almost every game.
The only team to trump the Lady Falcons this season was Chestatee in the Lanierland Tournament championship game on Dec. 22, when the Lady War Eagles used a big early lead to surprise their then-unbeaten opponent with a 46-44 win. The loss didn’t sit well with Hall’s players, and they had to wait nearly two weeks during the holiday break to bounce back from it.
Since then, Flowery Branch is 7-0, defeating opponents by an even larger margin than before. Prior to the loss, the Lady Falcons had cracked the 60-point barrier just twice in 11 games. Since then they have reached that mark in four consecutive outings.
“We had a chance to get some time off and refocus, more than anything else,” Hall said. “When everybody kind of gets in a rhythm and everybody is scoring, everybody kind of feeds off of everybody.”
With just six games left in the regular season, the chemistry is on the rise at just the right time. Flowery Branch is a favorite to enter the Region 8-AAAAA tournament as the No. 1 seed, strengthening the Lady Falcons’ bid for a fourth consecutive trip to the state playoffs.
It may leave Hall with little room for improvement, but by following the approach of a football coach in Tuscaloosa, Ala., she’s sure to find a way to make her team better.
“That’s one thing we’re really into — skill development, getting better all the time, so that you can contribute,” Hall said. “I think that you need everybody to contribute to what you’re doing just so that they have confidence in themselves.”