The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The 2010-11 basketball season brought new hope for all teams throughout the state, but with just eight schools remaining in the Georgia High School Association Class AAAA playoffs, Statesboro will square off against Forest Park in a rematch of a classic shootout in last year’s Elite Eight.
A late fourth quarter rally propelled the Lady Panthers to a 50-44 win last season, but the Lady Blue Devils are looking to turn the tables in today’s matchup at 4 p.m. in Fort Valley.
"We want to win it all, but it will be good to get another chance against Forest Park," said junior forward Alisia Jenkins. "I think we all felt like we should have won last season. Beating them to get to the Final Four would be nice."
Statesboro (26-3) enters today’s matchup with the second longest winning streak in Class AAAA, having not lost since December 20 and trailing only top-ranked Douglas County.
During that span, the Devils have used a highly potent and well balanced game plan to outclass their opponents.
Juniors Sierra Kirkland and Jenkins get things started with dominating defense and solid scoring down low, but the Devils are far from a two-girl show.
Senior guard Raven Thomas took over to notch a game-high 15 points in Statesboro’s opening round win over Lovejoy and had two early steals and baskets in Tuesday’s second round win over third-ranked Alcovy.
Neisha Drummer and Shanice Walker patrol the perimeter for the Devils and freshman Shanqwa Buie has blossomed over the course of the season to join Jenkins and Kirkland as a threat in the front court.
Overall, this season’s Statesboro roster is almost identical to last year, but another 12 months of seasoning has SHS coach Jeff Seier believing that the 2011 edition can be even better.
"Our girls have done a lot of growing up since last year," said Seier. "Not only do they have another year of practice under their belt, but they’re a more mature team. We’re pretty loose and confident — we have been all season. I don’t think that will change against Forest Park."
While the Devils are confident, they will have to contend with a Lady Panther team that is also largely unchanged from last season’s Final Four squad.
Keyonna Allen stars in the frontcourt for Forest Park (24-5, ranked fifth in the state) and will pose as one of the biggest obstacles Statesboro has had to face all season.
Still, Seier has the utmost confidence in his team’s ability to rise to the occasion.
"We tend to get up for teams that we know are going to present a big challenge," said Seier. "That was the case with Alcovy. We knew that we had to come out and play a complete game, and that’s what we did. Forest Park is a very good team and they won’t make it easy for us, but I expect our girls to come out of the gate playing well again."
At stake is a trip to Gwinnett for next week’s Final Four and state championship games.
Having held a lead into the fourth quarter against the Panthers last year, the Devils could taste the next level are now set on finishing the job they started.
"To make a Final Four would be a very special achievement," said Seier. "But we’re only looking as far a Forest Park. I’m not looking at travel arrangements for the Final Four. I’ll be more than happy to have to throw that together in a hurry next week."
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.