Last season, the Statesboro girls knew that they had a good team, but weren’t quite sure of how far they could go.
One year, one region title and on GHSA state Elite Eight appearance later, the Lady Blue Devils are a poised and confident team that is anxiously awaiting another chance to make a long run into the state tournament.
Statesboro has blazed its way to a 13-3 start this season, outplaying and — in many cases — simply outclassing its competition.
The catalyst for the Devils’ emergence as a statewide power is the talented junior class that forms the core of the team.
Forwards Alisia Jenkins and Sierra Kirkland take the top two spots in the team standings in both scoring and rebounding and are likely to be among the finalists for this season’s All-State team members.
"We know that we’re a good team, but we know that we need to keep getting better," said Jenkins. "Our freshman year, we got a little taste of the playoffs, and we were mad that we were out so quick. Last year, we went farther. This season, we want to keep on going."
The Devils certainly provide a formidable challenge for any team that tries to get in the way of that goal.
Aside from Jenkins and Kirkland, junior guard Raven Thomas provides suffocating defense and guards Niesha Drummer and Veljalisa Canty can rack up points quickly with their outside shooting.
Junior guard Ericka McDade was also a key member of the Devils’ deep roster, but after the first seven games of her return from a knee injury that sidelined the 2008-09 All-Region member, McDade was lost for the year with another torn ACL.
"That definitely hurts us and I feel terrible for her," said Seier. "Hopefully, she’ll be back for summer ball, but we feel that we have a strong squad and that we can find ways to make up for her absence."
Undaunted by the setback, Statesboro continues to lead Region 2-AAAA in both offense (51 ppg) and defense (31 ppg).
After a strong non-region schedule left the Devils with only three losses on the record — two to high-classification teams from Florida and another to Northside Warner Robins which was quickly avenged — Statesboro has picked up right where it left off after dismantling its region last season.
The Devils are 3-0 in Region 2-AAAA play after notching a road win at South Effingham, trouncing region newcomer Evans and then surviving a close call against Effingham County.
Tonight, the Devils look to keep their unbeaten region record intact as they host Greenbrier at 6 p.m.
The Lady Wolf Pack have had a rough go of things so far, amassing just two wins on the season and dropping games to fellow Augusta-area rivals Evans and Lakeside, Evans in their first two region games. Paired up against the powerful Devils, tonight’s game is a mismatch on paper, but Statesboro is taking nothing lightly.
"Every one of these games are important," said Seier. "You need to keep winning to get a higher seed for the region tournament. You don’t want to be in a situation where one bad game at the end of the year can keep you out of the state tournament."
Key for the Devils tonight will be improving on their last game.
Statesboro managed to outduel Effingham in a 37-34 win last Friday, but was far from being at the top of its game. Its feared inside game was unable to connect on many open looks, preventing the Devil defense — which generates many points off of turnovers — from applying its normally intense pressure.
Now, with a chance to get everything back on track against the last place Wolf Pack, the Devils can regroup and prepare for another run at a long postseason.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.