Last year, Flowery Branch coach Courtney Newton-Gonzalez was emotional for her stellar senior class, which made program history with a third-straight Lanierland championship trophy to add to the school’s trophy case.
It was the same circumstance for the fourth-year Lady Falcons coach Saturday night, only a different bunch to congratulate as the 2019 class added another benchmark in the group’s legacy.
Reigning Hall County champion Flowery Branch stormed past North Hall for a 48-23 triumph in the 2018 Lanierland title game at West Hall High, sealing the program’s first-ever four-peat in the tournament.
The Lady Falcons (12-3) are also the first team in the girls bracket to win four-straight titles since West Hall, which won championships from 1997-2000.
“You know, I think this group had a monkey on their back. Just because we did lose so much (after last year),” Newton-Gonzalez said of her current senior group. “We lost some great, great players. So I think there might have been some doubt coming into this season, but I’m so proud of them for brushing off all that doubt and being able to step up as seniors and lead this group and continue the legacy.”
A new player from West Virginia early in her high school career, Ashley Scott was in the surprising position to give the Lady Falcons the lead early and then go on to front the scoring efforts with 15 points.
“It’s something really special,” said Scott, who’s production came solely from the perimeter with five 3-pointers, and was named to the Lanierland All-tournament team. “A lot of kids have to … keep up I guess, (with this program). Transition into what we’ve accomplished. And I think our team is good enough to do it, especially for next few years.”
The Lady Falcons played with such an intensity and enthusiasm that stayed with the defending champs from start to finish. Offensively, all five starters fueled a scoring rampage that resulted in Flowery Branch carrying a double-digit lead from the first quarter through the rest of the game.
"It’s a feeling of accomplishment because, it was what we were aiming for,” said senior guard Ashley Woodroffe, who capped off her final Lanierland game with 13 points, and earned the tournament’s MVP distinction.
Senior guard Caroline Wysocki was another to lead the charge as she chipped in six points with five assists and four steals for the Lady Falcons.
Flowery Branch, normally a squad dedicated to the press, switched things up to better combat North Hall’s tenacious group of guards. As a result, the Lady Falcons yielded their opponent to single-digit points for three of four quarters, and very few clean looks at the basket.
North Hall post player Ansleigh Ferguson, after recording double-double showings in the previous two tournament games, was held to two points and no field goals. Lady Trojans senior guard Maci Gillespie was the only starter to score in the double digits with 13 points, followed by Grace Hollifield with five points.
Newton-Gonzalez was pleased to see her players take advantage of their opportunities against a North Hall squad that gutted out a pair of thrilling victories the previous two nights — including the team’s overtime victory against Gainesville in the semifinals on Friday.
“We knew they came off two big games, you know, two games where they had to play really hard,” the Lady Falcons coach said. “We typically come out pressing, but we knew they had senior guards and a really heady point guard in (Maci Gillespie). So we just decided to lock in on our half-court defense, and I’m really proud how we locked in on that.
“I thought our help-side defense was good, thought we guarded Ferguson really well, and we just locked in on all five players.”
Gillespie scored the game’s first basket for North Hall within the first two minutes of the championship, though that time spent ahead was short lived for the Lady Trojans (11-4). Scott put Flowery Branch ahead with the first of three 3-pointers in the period, and the Lady Falcons sprinted to a double-digit lead they would not relinquish.
Scott’s second trey of the half, this time from way outside the top of the arc, beat the buzzer to stretch Flowery Branch’s lead to 20-6.
After leading 27-10 at halftime, the margin gradually ballooned to 36 by the final period. It was all smiles for the Lady Falcons after that, hoisting the trademark gold trophy in front of a packed-to-capacity crowd.
“Just thinking going into this, our first one, they hadn’t won since 2003," Newton-Gonzalez said. "So that just tells you how hard it is to win one. But to be able to win four-in-a-row, we’ve had kids who just committed to what we ask them to do, really lock in with scouting reports and gameplans. That is just a testament to our kids, what they do and believe in our system.”
2018 Lanierland All-tournament team:
Kinsey Wilson (West Hall)
Ivey Shadburn (East Hall)
Christina Garcia (Chestatee)
Eliza Snyder (Lakeview Academy)
Maci Gillespie (North Hall)
Jazmyn Gooch (Johnson)
Tia Shelton (Gainesville)
Ashley Scott (Flowery Branch)
Madi Phillips (Cherokee Bluff)
Tournament MVP: Ashley Woodroffe (Flowery Branch)