At a glance
Top teams by sport (based on recent performance)
Softball: Madison County
Cross country: Eastside boys, Chestatee girls
Basketball: Monroe Area boys, Chestatee girls
Track and Field: Madison County boys, Eastside girls
Soccer: Johnson boys, Eastside girls
Golf: Eastside boys and girls
Tennis: Madison County boys and girls
Region 8-AAAA plays a straight region schedule. Playoff teams are determined by final region standings (1st-4th).
Chestatee football coach Stan Luttrell is entering his seventh season at the helm of the War Eagles, and he’s led his team through a number of different regions.
But he said there’s at least one thing each of the regions has had in common, including the new Region 8-AAAA that Chestatee will compete in for the upcoming season.
“The region has always been tough and competitive,” said Luttrell, whose team played in 8-AAA the last two years. “I don’t think we’ve had a weak region since I’ve been here.”
The War Eagles coach remembered first seeing the formation of the new region with the Georgia High School Association’s semi-annual region realignment, and thinking how nice it would be not to play a subregion schedule anymore.
Then he saw the teams that the War Eagles, who opened 3-0 last season before sliding to a 4-6 record overall, will have to compete against for one of the top-four spots.
“I think its going to be tough week in and week out,” Luttrell said. “Stephens County is the standout, and based on recent success, Monroe Area is a team to keep an eye on. Eastside is like Stephens County, a lot of athletes. And Lanier will have their first senior class, and they’re from Gwinnett, so you know they’re going to be able to play.”
One thing the new region won’t have — at least in football — is any other Hall County team. With fellow 8-AAAA school Johnson (0-10 in 2011) having decided to play a non-region schedule the next two seasons, Chestatee is Hall County’s lone representative in a region that stretches from Toccoa down to Covington and over to Sugar Hill.
“Potentially, it could change the gates. Financially it’s probably going to affect us more than on the field,” Luttrell said.
The realignment won’t keep the War Eagles from keeping the rivalries though, as Chestatee is scheduled to play North Hall, West Hall and Johnson in the non-region schedule, as well as a scrimmage against East Hall.
“We want to still continue the rivalries we’ve had,” he added. “But we’re not going to see the traditional region battles.”
Johnson, under new coach Jason Roquemore, will still play a heavy Hall County slate, with games against West Hall, North Hall and East Hall in addition to Chestatee.
Johnson boys soccer coach Brian Shirley, whose team finished third in 8-AAA last season, one spot behind a surprising Chestatee squad, also worked to keep the Hall County rivalries intact, even if the War Eagles are now the only in-county region rival.
With only eight region games to play, it gives the Knights 12 open dates to fill with non-region opponents, including Flowery Branch, Gainesville and West Hall, among others.
Shirley said his players are happy to have a little less of a grind in the region schedule with going from 12 to eight opponents.
“We like the way the region is stacking up, mainly that we’re only playing eight region games instead of 12, so hopefully we won’t have such a brutal region slate,” Shirley said. “But we tried to set as tough of a non-region schedule as we could.”
And the Knights know not to overlook any of the region opponents either, even if teams with the pedigree of a Gainesville or West Hall may be missing.
“They’ve realized the past couple of years, we’ve lost some games we should have won, so we know we can’t overlook anybody,” he said as he brought up Madison County, Chestatee and Eastside as potential title contenders in the region. “You can’t take anything for granted.”
That extends to the state playoffs level as well. While many of the private schools that Johnson had tussled with in Class AAA have stayed down, schools like Carrollton, Southwest Whitfield and Dalton — which eliminated the Knights in the first round last season — all rose as well.
The caution doesn’t mean that the Knights don’t like their chances at a run, however.
“I know the guys like our chances, and we’re building up a lot of momentum for the season,” Shirley said. “Nothing’s going to be given to us, we have to go prove it on the field.”
Chestatee girls basketball coach Web Daniel, whose Lady War Eagles finished second in 8-AAA last season, is also cautiously optimistic with his team bringing back nearly all of last year’s pieces from a state tournament team.
“We’ve got a lot of people coming back; we think we’re going to be good,” he said. “But many of the teams that we were competing with are still there.”
At least, he said, Chestatee had the good fortune of moving out of Class AAA just as girls basketball powerhouse and 2011 state runner-up Buford moved in.
Daniel said he and the Lady War Eagles will, however, miss playing as many county rivalries within the region schedule.
“The gates are going to be a lot less, and you hate the fact that we’re not going to have those crowds,” he said. “North Hall, that’s our biggest rivalry and we’ve got to find a way to keep that game going for us. But also for the other county schools, like East Hall and Gainesville.”
While Chestatee won’t have to contend with many of the premier Hall County teams in region play, Daniel added that a run at a region title won’t be easy, mentioning Madison County and Eastside as programs to look out for.
“It doesn’t matter where you are,” he said. “There are going to be pretty tough teams to play against.”
It’s the message that Luttrell has already seen proven throughout his time with the War Eagles. But the Chestatee coach isn’t ready to count the War Eagles out.
“I think every team in the region is going to be competitive,” he said.
Chestatee, which displayed its potential last season not just with the 3-0 start but a shootout loss to likely region title contender Monroe Area 41-35 last season, is one of those competitors.