When describing the state of the sports programs at Flowery Branch High, its athletics director Jimmy Lawler has nothing but high praise for the school’s athletes, coaches, students and fan base.
In fact, the Falcons are continually recognized as having one of the top athletic departments in the state.
The 2020-2021 school year was one of the best for Flowery Branch, taking seventh place in all of Class 4A in the Director’s Cup standings. This ranking, done by the Georgia Athletics Director’s Association, allots points for performance in each sport.
Success was across the board with 15 of 18 sports programs at Flowery Branch advancing to state in 2020-2021, Lawler said.
“At Flowery Branch, we’re blessed with great athletes who are also good kids,” said Lawler, who is entering his 30th year in education, the majority of those years also coaching baseball in Hall County.
The success this past season at Flowery Branch was equally dispersed among the boys and girls programs.
In 2021, the Falcons boys were seventh in the state for director’s cup points, buoyed by top-three finishes in both the traditional and duals state wrestling meets, along with the boys’ soccer team making the state quarterfinals.
Meanwhile, the Lady Falcons were eighth overall, highlighted by the girls’ basketball program making the state quarterfinals, after a thrilling second-round upset of Marist in Atlanta.
Flowery Branch was the second-highest ranking program of any school in Hall County in the year-ending Director’s Cup standings (North Hall was fifth in Class 3A).
And any conversation about sports at Flowery Branch has to delve into its prolonged football success under coach Ben Hall.
In 2020, the Falcons made the second round of state, where they lost to eventual state champion Marist.
This season, Flowery Branch looks stocked with talent again, Lawler said, with senior quarterback and three-year starter David Renard, running backs Myles Ivey and Malik Dryden, wide receivers Seth Larson, Camo Campbell and Jaheim Hayes also returning.
On defense, Lawler said the football program will be led by Sam Westbrook, Christian Mendoza and Nick Linkowski.
The one offseason hit for Flowery Branch’s football program was tight end Baxley O’Brien moving to Rabun County High.
Lawler is especially pleased with the way the football program has performed in one of the most difficult regions and classifications in the entire state.
With a return to full stadium capacity next fall for football, Lawler is excited to see his student section, dubbed ‘The Dark Side’ show up in full force with no social-distancing restrictions.
“Our student section does a phenomenal job supporting our team the right way and they’re not obnoxious,” Lawler said. “Having the big crowds back is going to be a blessing.”
While other Hall County Schools are getting new synthetic surfaces put in at the football stadium, Lawler said Flowery Branch’s has been set for 2022.
In 2020, Lawler said Falcons Field was resodded. In fact, Lawler said many of his coaches would prefer continuing to play on natural grass, but having a synthetic playing surface comes with ample benefits of less maintenance and limits with weather cancellations.
“We get our new field next year, Lawler said. “And I completely understand the county’s decision.”
Other fall sports have Lawler eager for the upcoming season.
In softball, the defending Region 8-4A champions Lady Falcons return an elite left-handed pitcher Nikki Harris, the Region 8-4A Pitcher of the Year in 2020, and standout third baseman Savannah Rutledge, among others.
Lawler has high praise for second-year softball coach Blake Cagle and his program-building ability.
In volleyball, Flowery Branch has high numbers, with more than 60 girls trying out this season. Lawler said the team will be paced by Brianna Moore, Savannah Regnier and Ashlyn Browning, who had a sit out last season after moving in from Lanier Christian Academy, but was allowed to play junior varsity.
In cross country, coach Richard Ramsey is continued its tradition of excellence. On the girls side, junior Bella Brick is expected to be back after taking seventh place at state in 2020. For the boys, freshman Colby Polhemus comes in after winning the Hall County championship in middle school.
In the winter, Lawler expects the girls’ basketball program to be in a bit of a rebuilding mode, after graduating 6-foot-4 center Ashlee Locke, who will be playing at Mercer University, but will still be competitive in the region race for the playoffs against East Hall, Chestatee, Jefferson and North Oconee.
In boys basketball, Flowery Branch should see improvement after missing out on the 2021 postseason and not qualifying for the Lanierland in 2020.
Wrestling will continue to be a strength for the Falcons, after coming close to the state’s top spot in the individual and team championship meets last season. One of the Falcons’ top young wrestlers is the sophomore
Larson (145 pounds) who won a state championship in February in Macon and Freshman National Championship on April 25 in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
In the spring season, Lawler is excited about building on some sports programs, which enjoyed substantial success in 2021.
One major addition will be a new girls soccer coach, Todd Henry, who comes to Flowery Branch after a two-decade stint at Providence Christian. Henry takes some of the work off the plate of boys coach Sean Garnett, who was coaching both soccer programs the majority of the past season.
Henry will inherit a group that made the second round of the state playoffs in 2021, and next year will be anchored by Mississippi State commit Maggie Wadsworth, Sarah Greiner and Molly Langner.
Meanwhile, the Falcons boys should make another deep run in the postseason after having a junior-heavy squad in 2021 that made the third round of the postseason.
In baseball, Flowery Branch also appears to be in very good shape going forward. After going to the second round of state in 2021, next year the Falcons are expected to return left-handed pitcher Jake Beaver, a First-Team All-State selection, and rising junior right-hander Mason Compton.
Gone will be three college-bound players, including infielders JB Bell (Georgia Southern) and Connor Larson (Wofford), and catcher Kaleb Freeman (North Georgia).
Lawler said one of the foundations to his school’s athletics department is being blessed with coaches who have stayed with their respective program for a lengthy period of time.
“When you have veteran coaches, who have established themselves with the kids and the community, kids want to play for them,” Lawler said. “I’m very pleased with our staff. They are all very professional and great teachers of their sports.”