Westlake became the eighth school in state history to win three consecutive girls basketball state championships in the highest classification when it defeated previously unbeaten Collins Hill 72-53 three weekends ago at the Macon Centreplex.
The common thread in the Lions’ successful run has been Raven Johnson, the only player to start in all three finals victories. Johnson is this year’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s girls basketball all-classification player of the year.
“She’s a very good student. She’s one of our honor-roll students, and we’re very proud of that,” Westlake coach Hilda Hankerson said. “But leave no doubt, Raven has the mindset of a champion. When she came in as a freshman, she looked at me and she said, ‘I’m going to win the state for those seniors.’ We had six seniors on that team, and she was the only freshman who started.”
Against Collins Hill this year, in a rematch of the 2019 final that Westlake won 60-53, Johnson scored 23 points and had six rebounds, four assists, a blocked shot and a steal. She also shot 8-for-12 from the field, 3-for-3 on 3-pointers and 4-5 from the free-throw line while playing all 32 minutes.
“Raven is a real team player,” Hankerson said. “She’s gonna do whatever we need her to do. If she needs to feed the other guards more, she will do that. If she needs to score more, she’ll do that. When Collins Hill came out and they played that real tight 2-3 zone in the beginning, they laid in there real tight, and she’s a real good 3-point shooter. She dropped a couple of 3s and made them open it up a little bit.”
Johnson led the Lions this season in points scored with 478 (15 per game) and had team-best averages of 4.3 steals and 3.9 assists. She also contributed 5.2 rebounds and 0.6 blocks per game. She is ranked No. 13 nationally among juniors by ESPN and has received scholarship offers from Mississippi State, Baylor, South Carolina, Georgia, UCLA, Oregon, Miami, North Carolina and Rutgers, to a name a few, according to Hankerson.
“I think Raven Johnson is the best player in the state of Georgia, and so do many other people I have meetings with,” said Cherokee coach Matt Cates, whose team lost to Westlake 62-33 in the semifinals. “She is the best player I saw all year, in or out of state. She is the type of player who does not get rattled when pressured, and she keeps her team under control. But when it’s time for her to do extra, she does. She can dominate any game at any time but chooses to be a better teammate and do what’s best for her team.”
Westlake finished the season 30-2 overall (24-0 against Georgia teams) and ranked No. 14 nationally by MaxPreps. Westlake is 90-4 during the past three seasons, with all four losses coming against out-of-state competition.
This year’s team, however, was probably the most dominant of the three champions. The Lions won all 12 of their games in region play by at least 22 points and won their five playoff games by an average of 32 points. The victory against Collins Hill in the final was their only playoff game closer than 29 points.
“It definitely was the strongest team as far as our ability to put up points,” Hankerson said. “This team could probably score faster. The first team had more depth, so each team had its own little flavor. But this one could put up points faster than any other team.”
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