With a new wisp of cold fall air and the smell of pumpkin spice everything wafting about, it can only mean one thing to the sports world -- basketball is finally here.
As for Bulloch County, is also means a time for redemption. It’s no secret football didn’t turn out the success fans would have liked in the fall, leaving it up to the hardwood in the winter to make up for the lack of wins on the gridiron.
All the schools’ boys and girls teams have staggered starts to their respective seasons, so their previews will be released accordingly to the starts of their seasons. For now, two of those eight teams will begin play this week at the Lady Gator Classic: the Bulloch Academy girls and the Southeast Bulloch girls.
The classic isn’t a bracketed tournament, but instead a group pool play that’ll host 12 teams from Augusta, Savannah and the areas in between. BA is slated to play all three days, starting with Augusta Prep tonight at 7:00, New Hampstead tomorrow at 7:00 and then the tournament finale against Southeast Bulloch on Thursday at 8:00.
Meanwhile SEB is only playing on the latter two days, facing Frederica Academy tomorrow at 5:30 before their matchup with BA.
Both of these schools are following very different trajectories, one up and one down. BA is coming off a second round playoff exit where they lost to the state runners-up Westwood by just two points. SEB on the other hand is coming off a 4-21 season in a region that’s one of the best in the state, regardless of classification.
So before today’s games, here’s a look at the girls teams who’ll be taking the court at the Lady Gator Classic.
Now in her third year as head coach, Kristen Barnhill finally has an experienced group of upperclassmen she can work with. Totaling eight juniors and seniors combined, there’s depth to work with after losing only two seniors from last year’s team.
But even though the SEB girls have only won 10 games in two years under Barnhill, she believes this third year is the season real progress can be made.
“We have girls coming back who’ll have a lot of experience in key positions,” Barnhill said. “We’ll be counting on them to be the biggest contributors this season.”
Specifically two girls, guard Cole Robertson and post Sarah Howard, who come back from starting roles in last years team. The two have now played with each other for four years and have developed a respectable repertoire in the pick-and-roll game.
“We’ve got some chemistry,” Robertson said. “I feel like it will help up when running offense this season.”
SEB will focus on slowing things down this season and trying to run a more half-court focused offense, simply because trying to run up-and-down with the Savannah schools would be a futile effort on the part of the Yellow Jackets.
SEB’s region is stacked, there’s no way around it. Beach and Johnson are both coming off 25 plus win seasons while Savannah and Islands are both coming back of decent runs in their own right. With only four playoff spots allotted for region 3-3A, it’s pertinent that SEB take advantage of their games with Savannah and Islands.
“So long as we can win the games we’re supposed to win, especially at home, we should be fine,” Barnhill said. “Last season we tripped up in losing some games to teams I thought we were better than.”
SEB begins play this week in the aforementioned Gator classic, then jump right into region play on the road at Jenkins next Tuesday.
Bulloch Academy Girls
Despite having so much success over the past three years, nothing seems to compare to the kind of week BA has endured leading up to their season opening tournament.
Injuries to key players like Maddie Wynn Hendrix and Janna Beth Marsh plus the loss of Lacy Robins to Statesboro due to a family move have taken a hit to BA’s depth. Add in the pain of losing last year’s playoff game on a buzzer-beating halfcourt heave, and it’s a wonder how BA stays in high spirits.
“I love their attitude with everything that’s gone on this week,” said head coach Paul Webb. “For them to be upbeat and to accept different roles says a lot.”
This girls still have pedigree. Two out of the last three seasons the Lady Gators have won the state and region titles, last year being the aberration. But with that in mind they know they’ll not only be challenged with depth but by their region as well.
“This is probably the toughest region in GISA,” said senior MiKay Sands. “Pinewood, Frederica and even EBA are going to be tough outs.”
BA will always have a chance with the fast-paced style of play Webb likes to emphasize. BA has the personnel to move fast up and down the court and wear opponents out with a cast of all-region returners.
All-region and all-state selection Sands comes back to man the middle of the paint, while all-region performer Abby Newton will handle the point guard duties with Robins and Hendrix gone. Aliva Collins will come back to contribute after missing all of last season to provide some more size in the front court.
“It’s too early to tell how things will go because almost half our team isn’t here right now,” Webb said. “But once we all get here and together we should be alright.”
BA opens up play this week in the tournament they’ll host, but will take a short recess before the pick up play again with the regular schedule on Nov. 29 against May River High School on the road.