Flowery Branch girls basketball coach Hazel Hall was trying to win this year, as well as build a program that is already deep in young talent to be ready to win in the future.
She succeeded on both fronts.
The Lady Falcons (17-11) made the playoffs this year — the program’s first postseason trip since 2005 — as well as won a playoff game on the road, and advanced to the quarterfinals of the Class AAA state playoffs.
For her efforts, Hall is The Times’ Girls Basketball Coach of the Year.
“I feel like we took a step in the right direction,” Hall said. “These girls now expect to be playing late in the season.”
The experience at the top of the roster centered around senior Jessica Harper, who was a force in every facet of the game.
However, with no rising seniors, Hall knew it would be key to get Flowery Branch’s young talent in the game early and often.
She found a good group of freshmen that could work together, including Marissa Ivey, Tavia Sykes, Jacy Ramey and Kayla Robles. And after a lull in the middle of the season, including back-to-back losses to West Forsyth and East Hall, Hall felt like it was time to prove she meant business and wasn’t afraid to throw these younger kids out on the floor.
It turned out to be the turning point in the season.
Following those two region losses, Hall started four freshmen and a senior against Central Gwinnett. Not only did they keep their composure, but they jumped to a 12-0 lead before rolling to a 55-49 victory.
“I think our attitude really improved after that point,” Hall said.
The record certainly indicated that it was a turning point, with an 8-3 record the remainder of the regular season.
Arguably, Flowery Branch’s biggest victory came when it defeated Chestatee, who spent most of the season ranked in the top 10, in the opening round of the Region 7-AAA tourney to qualify for the state playoffs.
The Lady Falcons’ key to victory was defense, and forced the Lady War Eagles into 24 turnovers.
Still, Flowery Branch wasn’t done making it a season to remember.
In the third-place game of the region tourney, the Lady Falcons defeated Creekview, 48-37, to avoid a first-round playoff game against a region champion.
Even with two region tournament wins in Flowery Branch’s column, Hall knew that her team wasn’t done. She went and scouted first-round playoff opponent Southeast Whitfield and came away with a definitive game plan. She felt that any advantage Southeast Whitfield held in terms of size, her team more than compensated for with athletic ability.
She was right.
Tied 22-22 at halftime against Southeast Whitfield, Harper scored 19 of her team-high 24 points to send the Lady Falcons into the second round against eventual Class AAA state champion Columbia.
With such a strong season in the books, Hall is excited about the future. Despite no seniors on next season’s roster, she has a close-knit group of rising sophomores that have already proved they are talented athletes, not only this season, but also by cruising to a Middle School championship as eighth graders.
“We’re excited about next season,” Hall said.