The 2016-17 girls high school basketball season in Georgia had some predictable results – Wesleyan keeps turning out championships – some familiar finalists (Beach and Johnson from Savannah squared off in the Class AAA final, while Columbus and Carver-Columbus dueled for the AAAA crown. And then there were the gut-wrenching narrow misses. Columbus downed Carver 68-67 in the finals, while Mays scraped by Harrison 52-51 in the AAAAAA final.
Sure, all of this means little for the 2017-18 season. Gotta start somewhere, though. Here’s a look at a batch of players and teams that figure to be in the mix:
Class A Private
Champion Wesleyan, which won its last 10 games last season to finish 28-4 and claim its 12th state title since 2002, appears to be geared for another run. Seniors Amaya Register (committed to Old Dominion) and Sutton West (committed to Furman) give the Wolves an experienced inside-outside combination. Sophomore post player Avyonce Carter and junior guard Callie Weaver round out a tested group.
Runner-Up Holy Innocents finished 29-3, and two of the Bears' three losses were to Wesleyan, including a three-point loss in the state final. The other loss was to Class AAAAAAA titlist Norcross. Back to take another crack at it for coach Nichole Dixon are leading scorer Kaila Hubbard and leading rebounder Kennedy Suttle and sophomore Jada Farrell, who did a lot of things well for the Bears last season. Dixon pointed out that Farrell is part of a dedicated sophomore class, and HIES welcomes a large group of talented freshmen.
Class A Public
Champion Pelham returns three starters, including guard Mahogany Randall, who averaged 14 points, four steals and three assists. Senior post player Willeshia Kemp, at 6-2, provides an intimidating presence for the Hornets, who open the season with the state’s second-longest winning streak at 18 games.
Finalist Rabun County (29-3 last season) returns junior guard Georgia Stockton (12.7 points, 4.4 steals, 4.8 rebounds per game) but suffered a big blow with a knee injury to guard Brooke Henricks this summer.
Semifinalist Model (25-6 last season) returns one of the state's best all-around players in 6-0 senior post player Victaria Saxton, who averaged 25 points, 13.5 rebounds, 4.5 blocks and 3.5 steals as a junior. The Blue Devils also return point guard Kyla Reynolds and they get back Mariesha Welch, a two-year starter who tore an ACL last December.
Runner-up Johnson-Savannah might have finished as the most frustrated team in the state last March. The Atomsmashers went 27-3, beating everybody they played. That included a pair of wins over cross-town rival Beach, whom they played five times, including the state championship, which Beach won. Graduation was unkind to Johnson, which lost AAA Player of the Year Alexis Pierce (who signed with Jacksonville University) and Olivia Owens (Iona). Still, three players who averaged double figures in points return. SyMarieona Williams, who surpassed 1,000 career points as a junior last season and made 40 percent of her 3-point attempts.
Semifinalist Greater Atlanta Christian (19-11 last season) returns four starters, including Auburn commitment Robyn Benton, Middle Tennessee commitment Taylor Sutton and Hofstra commitmen Caria Reynolds.
Finalist Carver-Columbus split four games with cross-town rival Columbus, but came up one point short in the state final and finished 26-5. The Tigers return the bulk of their contributing players from last season, led by senior guards Mariah Igus and Alycia Reese.
Semifinalist Cross Creek, which has topped 20 wins in each of the past six seasons, returns sophomore Micah Bess, and coach Kim Schlein is ready to see what freshman Jordyn Dorsey can do. The Razorbacks lost two key inside players – Alana Davis graduated after averaging 19.6 points and 13 rebounds per game, and Kianni Westbrook transferred to Burke County.
Defending champion Buford (29-2 last season) returns six of their top 10 players and three starters. Guard Tory Ozment (committed to Michigan State) averaged 15 points and 4 assists. Air Force commitment Audrey Weiner average d10 points per game, and UMass commitment Jessica Nelson averaged 8 points and 6 rebounds. Buford coach Gene Durden starts the season with 750 career wins, including 317 with the Wolves.
Finalist Southwest DeKalb (27-5 last season) returns 10 players, though they'll seek replacements for Texas A&M signee Jada Walton and Central Florida signee Ogheneruona Uwusiaba. Back to lead the Panthers in 2017-18 are Michaela Bennefield (5 points, 5 rebounds per game last season) and Lanee Edwards (9 points per game).
Semifinalist Flowery Branch returns three starters from last year's team that finished 24-7. Three of their seven losses were to 8-AAAAA foe Buford. The Falcons are led by Alabama commitment Taniyah Worth a 6-0 guard, and 5-1 guard Lexie Sengkhammee, who's committeed to Emmanuel College.
State runner-up Harrison came agonizingly close to a state title last March, falling 52-51 to Mays. The Hoyas and coach Steve Lenahan are tasked with finding replacements for Sydne Wiggins (signed with Rice), Avery Jordan (Young Harris) Raicheal Tringali and Jazzy Foster. They do, however return a solid core of players, led by 5-10 guard Audrey Jordan (12 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 steals per game), who has committed to Alabama-Birmingham.
Semifinalist Northview, which finished 28-4 last season, returns five players who accounted for 42 points per game Leading the way are a pair of 6-1 junior forwards, Ashlee Austin and Maya Richards. Austin averaged 14 points and 8.5 rebounds for the Titans, who return a backcourt of senior Megan Cistulli (5 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists) , Asjah Innis (8 points, 6 assists) and Makayla Davis (5 points, 2 steals, 2 assists).
Quarterfinalist Stephenson, three years removed from its 2015 state title in Class AAAAA, returns six players off last year's 20-11 team.
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Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC