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Weekend tourney tests teams prior to region play
East Hall Lady Vikings Jalisa Stephens shoots the ball during girl’s basketball practice at East Hall High School Thursday. - photo by SARA GUEVARA | The Times

North Georgia College - Achasta Challenge

Today's games 

North Hall girls vs. Buford, 4 p.m.

North Hall boys vs. Buford, 5:30 p.m.

East Hall girls vs. Milton, 7 p.m.

East Hall boys vs. Wesleyan, 8:30 p.m.

The holiday tournament season begins today for three area schools in the North Georgia-Achasta Challenge at North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega.

Buford, East Hall and North Hall, which have two varsity teams in the challenge will be featured along with the Wesleyan boys and Milton girls in yet another tune-up to post-holiday break region play.

For the North Hall boys, the weekend will also be a chance to see what the future holds.

The Trojans (4-3) come in with five key contributors missing from their lineup.

Starters Chase Syfan, Nathan Jones and Ty Smith along with reserves Lance White and Zac Pendley will each miss action due to injury or illness.

“Our mentality right now is that there’s an opportunity for guys to step up and earn playing time,” North Hall coach Benji Wood said. “It’s also an opportunity to find out a little bit about ourselves.”

One of the players who will be looked at to fill the void is sophomore Hamilton Harper, who came off the bench to score nine points on three 3-pointers in his first varsity game against Lakeview.

“He’s capable of getting hot,” Wood said. “He’s hot now and we’re going to ride it.”

Even though Harper, along with other first-year varsity players that will be asked to contribute big minutes this weekend, is facing the pressure of being counted upon in a big game, Wood’s coaching mentality is no different than usual.

“We’re going to go compete,” Wood said, “I’m not going to baby them.

“This is a chance for them to get playing time and earn the right to help us out later.”

The Trojans female counterparts are in the midst of a three-game losing streak and looking to turn it around.

Facing Class AA’s No. 3-ranked Buford in Game 1 and Class AAAAA’s Milton in Game 2, both senior-laden teams, will make that turnaround hard for the young Lady Trojans.

North Hall (2-4), led by freshmen McKenna Rushton and Taylor Tate, comes in averaging 45 points per game while giving up 56.

The Buford girls enter the tournament boasting a 3-1 record and are coming off a 54-3 rout of Avondale on Dec. 9.

“We want to play,” Buford girls coach Gene Durden said of his team, which has only played four games so far due to the prolonged Buford football season. “We feel like we have no rhythm yet and are just excited to get back on the court.”

The Lady Wolves, who are averaging 54 points per game while only giving up 30, are led by senior Auburn-commit Blanche Alverson (more than 12.6 points per game). Fellow team leader and senior Jocelyn Danley will miss this weekend’s tournament due to a stress fracture.

“We’ve got to find people to step up and fill her shoes,” Durden said. “She brings rebounding intensity and scoring to our squad and we’ll be looking to see who’ll step up.”

Buford has a freshman standout of its own in shooting guard Andreya Carter. Carter, who had a season-best 12 points in Buford’s only loss of the season — a 53-49 defeat in double overtime to Marist — is already getting looks from the likes of the University of Georgia.

“We know the tradition of Hall County schools basketball wise, and we feel like this tournament will get up prepared for our region season,” Durden said.

Both East Hall teams are fighting inexperience.

The Vikings (1-3) are in the throws of their worst start to a season in over five years, the Lady Vikings (4-2) are looking to avenge an early-season loss to Milton on Nov. 29.

“We’ve grown up a little,” said second-year East Hall girls coach Joey Rider, whose team will face Milton at 7 tonight, “not a lot but a little.

“The first time we played we had 27 turnovers and were in foul trouble.”

Rider knows that playing two experienced squads in Buford and Milton will go a long way in, if nothing else, showing his girls the right way to do things.

“The two teams we’re going to play this weekend are really good and older teams,” Rider said. “Both play up tempo and are physical, senior-laden teams.

“We’re going to have to do the right things to win.”

Nothing prepares a team for being the best, however, than beating the best and on the girls side both North Hall and East Hall will be facing that exact challenge.

“The better the competition you play, the better you get,” Rider said. “We’re either going to play well or really get out tails kicked.

“So, I guess we’ll see what happens.”

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