Central-Macon girls adapting, winning after injuries

No. 4 Chargers seeking 3rd consecutive deep playoff run

The Central Chargers beat Northeast-Macon 65-33 on the road Saturday, improving to 10-0 in Region 2 and 17-4 overall, good for a No. 4 ranking. On paper, it looks to be winning business as usual for coach Tamara Bolston-Williams and the Chargers, who have reached the quarterfinals in each of the past two seasons, the furthest the program has ever been.

Though the team is winning on the court, they were dealt two crushing losses at the top of the new year. Seniors Taliah Grier and Tayelor Davis, two of the Chargers top three contributors, suffered season-ending injuries. Davis got hurt during a Jan. 1 practice and Grier, who has over 1,000 points for her prep career, was hurt Jan. 5, in the Chargers’ first game of 2024.

All of a sudden the team, led by senior Alaya Grane, who is the third of the Chargers’ top three players, were forced to adapt to new roles. They haven’t lost since the injuries, going 10-0.

“Initially, Alyaha was very emotional about losing Tayelor and Taliah,” said Bolston-Williams, in her sixth season as Chargers head coach. “They’d spent all summer playing AAU together, and they were looking forward to doing big things their senior year. But she has taken the team on her shoulders and led the way. We’re very excited about her progression, and the way she has accepted her role despite the circumstances.”

Grane is averaging 15.1 points, 3.6 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 3.4 steals on the season. Junior Jazlyn Johnson has thrived in a more prominent role, contributing 10.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.5 steals, a block, along with another junior, Frances Anyakudo (six points, 7.4 rebounds, three steals, a block). Kacie Reeves, Selena Grier and Chamiyah Montgomery are three freshman that have stepped up.

“Jazlyn’s role is her versatility, because she can play at multiple spots, and she’s a dynamic scorer who can rebound,” Bolston-Williams said. “Frances is a defensive monster, and a glue player that won’t have a big stat line, but she’ll get you double-digit rebounds and steals, and she does all the dirty work. We’ve had some freshman grow up really fast. Not that they didn’t come in with a good skillset, but they’re having to step up quickly, and a lot faster than we’d planned, and they’ve matured on the court. They’ve definitely helped with our success.”

Helping the Chargers’ record is the lack of competition in 2-2A, where they went 14-0 last season, their first in the region. They put together a strong non-region schedule, however, and beat 7A’s Collins Hill, 6A’s Pope, which only this week exited the polls, and No. 10 Dodge County in a cross-classification game, while losing to Bolston-Williams’ alma mater, 4A’s No. 1 Baldwin, 7A’s No. 3 Buford, 6A’s No. 8 Veterans, and top-ranked Mount Paran in another cross-classification game.

“Our non-region schedule is always very important,” Bolston-Williams said. “No. 1, it keeps our girls from being comfortable and content. After a successful season, it takes them through adversity, and to figure out different ways to compete against traditional powerhouses, like Buford, Veterans and Baldwin. They’re successful because of how well-coached they are, and credit to their players too. It gives us a chance to see how we measure up, and what it takes to compete.”

There hasn’t been much competition for the Chargers in Region 2. On Dec. 12, Rutland scored on them in the second quarter, but that was it. The Chargers won 90-2. Scores of other region wins for them include 83-7, 60-10 and 64-11. Their closest 2-2A game was against Spencer, a 61-41 win on Jan. 16.

“Our goal has always been to come out of our region as champions, and to play as many home playoff games as possible,” Bolston-Williams said. “Right now, we feel good about how our young players, and our returners, have stepped up into new roles. We want to stay positive and finish out the season strong.”

Though Grane, Grier and Davis won’t play together as Chargers, there is a silver lining for them. All three have signed with Talladega, coached by Akia Stanton. Bolston-Williams and Stanton were teammates at Baldwin, and the former regularly recruits Central, because the two have the similar coaching styles.

The Chargers have four more regular season games, all against Regoin 2 opponents. Then it’s on to the postseason, where they’ll aim for a third straight deep tournament run.

“With us, the sky is always the limit,” Bolston-Williams said. “The expectations, from a coaching standpoint, is that we are as prepared as possible, to exude maximum energy and effort, and to leave everything on the floor. We have to be ready each night to give our best and be ready to face whatever is in front of us.”

Correction: An earlier version of this post listed Central losing to Pope, and the incorrect dates of Davis and Grier.