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Lanierland: This year's tourney renews region rivalries
North Hall’s Ethan Smith, right, is guarded by East Hall’s Dre Perry during their game earlier this year at the East Hall gymnasium. - photo by Tom Reed

The end of the “Hall County Region” is going to do wonders for Lanierland.

Already the oldest tournament in the state that has showcased great basketball for 50 years, this year’s Lanierland might prove to be one of the best yet because this truly is the Hall County championship and not just a preview of what’s to come in the regular season.

“I think it’s kind of increased the interest in the tournament,” East Hall boys coach Joe Dix said. “Really last year was Part A of the county championship and the region championship was Part B.”

The North Hall boys won both parts last year, which has Dix thinking the Trojans are the “clear-cut favorite.”

“Coach Dix says we’re the clear-cut favorite and we only beat them by three,” North Hall coach Benjie Wood said.

Aside from Dix, the other coaches in the four-day tournament couldn’t say who was the team to beat, but they did state how much this tournament means now that the teams involved (save Lakeview Academy’s boys and Jefferson’s girls) are no longer playing in the same region.

“That Hall County region was not good for Lanierland because everybody was playing everybody anyway,” West Hall boys coach Warren Sellers said.

“With us all being in different regions, it’s the only time we come together for one trophy,” Dix added.

That one trophy will prove which team is the best in the county.

“Bringing home that gold ball means a lot for everyone in the county,” said North Hall girls coach Kristi House, who was a member of the coaching staff when the Lady Trojans won Lanierland last year. “It’s anybody’s championship and it’s going to be difficult for us to repeat.”

Both North Hall teams will have difficulty repeating not only because of the increased level of pride, but because of the increased level of talent on each team as well.

Four of the eight boys teams — North Hall, Gainesville, East Hall and West Hall — enter the tournament ranked in the latest Top 10, and although No. 3 Chestatee is the only ranked girls team, that side of the bracket is loaded with talented teams like Gainesville, East Hall and North Hall.

“It’s wide open like it was last year,” Gainesville girls coach Manson Hill said. “East Hall has a great team with two really good players, North Hall has a bunch of players back and Chestatee is a senior-laden team.”

The boys side is even more difficult. Just ask Sellers, who opens the tournament Monday against the Red Elephants.

“We have Gainesville first and they could be the best team in it,” said Sellers, who guided the Spartans to the 2008 title. “It doesn’t get any easier from there. You have to show up and play your best.”

And for those teams who want to win the championship, they’ll have to play their best in three games in the span of four days.

“The fact that it’s compacted puts an emphasis on preparation,” Sellers said.

Some coaches have an advantage in preparation as East Hall, Flowery Branch, North Hall, Chestatee and Gainesville have already played at least one other participant this season. But those games were simply schedule-fillers and the outcomes will pale in comparison to the wins and losses accumulated at Lanierland.

“Traditionally, there’s always been great basketball in Hall County and Lanierland is a great way to celebrate teams past and present,” Gainesville coach Todd Cottrell said.

“We want to win, everyone wants to win,” Wood said. “If you’re in Hall County, you better come to play.”

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