With region tournament play less than two weeks away, the Greater Atlanta Christian Lady Spartans resume already includes championship-caliber opponents that should have them ready when the time comes. The Lady Spartans (17-5) are the state's fifth-ranked team in AA, with their five losses coming either to defending state champions (Wesleyan, AA; Columbia, AAAA; St. Francis, A-Public), state runner-ups (Southwest Atlanta Christian, A-Public) or semifinalists (Hughes, AAAAAA).
The Lady Spartans are 4-1 in Region 6 play, with their lone loss coming to Wesleyan, the state's No. 1 team and six-time defending state champions. Weather permitting, the two teams will meet again this evening at GAC.
"We're familiar with (Wesleyan's) style," said Lady Spartans coach Cal Boyd, in his fifth season as GAC coach and 22nd overall. "They press you from the moment you get off the bus. They're uptempo, they have a deep roster and (Wesleyan coach Jan Azar) does a good job of running players in and out. We have to handle their press and make good decisions by deciding if it's best to attack and score or kick the ball out and run our offense. They have several good shooters and we have to do a good job of communicating on defense and contesting their shots. We'll have to switch up our defense to keep them off balance as best as we can."
Aside from a second meeting with Wesleyan, the Lady Spartans challenge themselves outside of region play whenever possible. Most recently, they participated in the Girls Night Out Showcase at Brookwood, where they defeated Oneonta (Ala.) 37-33. While traditionally most teams play in events featuring out-of-state competition during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, Boyd said playing in such events later in the season is becoming more common.
"A lot of teams are trying to prepare for the postseason," Boyd said. "This late in the year and in the middle of region play, it's nice to step out for a game and play a good team that tests you and pushes you to the limit so you can be mentally ready for a playoff-type environment and a playoff-type opponent."
The Lady Spartans have made meaningful postseason runs in each of the past four seasons. They won the region in 2010 and advanced to the semifinals. In 2011 they reached the AA state finals as a No. 2 seed, losing to Buford. They lost by two points in the second round the past two seasons. In order to make a deep run this season, they'll lean on the leadership of four-year starters Brianna Cummings and Sydni Means. Cummings, a guard committed to George Washington, is averaging 19.3 points, 7.7 rebounds, 4.3 steals and a block per game. Means, also a guard, is committed to Mercer and averaging 12.9 points and 3.1 steals.
Boyd said the Lady Spartans are at their best when creating scoring opportunities at the defensive end by contesting shots and moving the ball in transition. Defense has been the key all year, as demonstrated by their holding of opponents to just 39 points a game.
And the good news for Lady Spartans fans is they appear to be playing their best basketball at the moment.
"We're playing well," Boyd said. "We're clicking on all cylinders and continue to build on what we've done right to go into the postseason on a high note."
Send Adam Krohn an email at AdamKrohnAJC@yahoo.com and follow him on Twitter.
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