Class 2A blog: Fannin County girls not shying from title goal

Top-ranked Rebels seek to top last year’s runner-up finish

The newly-minted No. 1 Fannin County Rebels are determined to return to the Class 2A championship, where last year they led by 14 points in the third quarter before falling 47-42 to Josey, ending a magical playoff run that pulled them to within proximity of their first state title since 1993.

With three key contributors — senior guard Becca Ledford, senior wing Regan York and sophomore guard Courtney Davis — returning, the Rebels (15-2) have thus far positioned themselves for another deep playoff run. They’re riding a seven-game win streak that dates to Dec. 30 and, with then-No. 1 Elbert County losing to Rabun County over the weekend, that allowed the Rebels to move up a spot from No. 2.

Ledford is the nucleus, leading the team with a 12-point scoring average on 50% shooting and adding 5.8 rebounds, three assists and 2.3 steals.

“She’s a monster defensively,” Rebels coach Ryan Chastain said. “She’s just elite on the defensive end. She’s super athletic and has been huge for us on the boards.”

Chastain characterizes the Rebels as a team that lacks size, but makes up for it with speed and athleticism. In addition to Ledford, Davis (15 points, 2.7 steals), Reagan York (eight points, five rebounds, three assists, 1.7 steals) and Ellie Cook (11 points, three steals), a transfer from Union County, have kept the team on a title-contending track.

It was Ledford and Davis who teamed up last year to create one of the greatest highlights in Rebels history. With their semifinal matchup against Butler tied at 41, Davis — then a freshman — stole the ball with 3.2 seconds remaining, dribbled across half-court and delivered the perfect pass to a cutting Ledford, who in stride put in the game-winning layup as time expired, sending the Rebels to their first title appearance since 2004.

Chastain considers York a glue player, one who can guard four positions, and who serves as the middle passer against zone defenses and the press, among other duties. He described Cook as a key addition and steady contributor.

Chastain said this group began their growth process during summer, and that process has continued into the season.

“This year we’re a lot better on defense,” Chastain said. “We’re always pounding the rock defensively every day in practice and we hang our hat on that. Defense is our bread and butter.”

The Rebels’ non-region schedule netted wins over 3A’s No. 6 Oconee County, 4A’s No. 5 Pickens and North Oconee, and 7A’s North Gwinnett and Mill Creek. Their lone losses came to North Carolina’s Murphy, ranked No. 3 in Division 1A West, and to 4A’s No. 1 Jefferson, their last loss, which came Dec. 29.

“I think (the non-region schedule) was good for us,” Chastain said. “We played some tough teams, and we lost a couple....We played North Oconee in a tournament at Buford, which is good because that arena gives you a playoff feel. Oconee County was a long road trip, almost three hours, and that was a good test because they were big. I tried to get some teams with bigs on the schedule so that, as a smaller team, we can learn how to handle them defensively.”

The Rebels have seven games remaining, starting Tuesday with their final non-region game at Union County (11-6). From there, they’ll close out their regular season schedule against opponents in Region 8, where they’re 6-0 and all wins have come by more than 20 points.

As the Rebels gear up for the postseason, Chastain has thought in outside-the-box terms when it comes to challenging his team. They’ve spent a lot of time scrimmaging the JV boys team, with the boys playing man defense because most of their competition guards them with zone sets.

“No one wants to defend our guards man-to-man,” Chastain said. “We’ll see it in state though, so that’s why we’ve been working on those it with the JV boys team, because we’re trying to stay vigilant and make sure our man offensive sets stay crisp.”

After coming so close to a title last year, there’s a sense of urgency in the Rebels locker room to finish the drill, and the team doesn’t shy from the task.

“We had a taste of what it could be like,” Chastain said. “Now we have to go and get it after being so close, only to be denied at the end. A lot of people might shy away from losing a state championship but we talk about it all the time. I don’t want them to forget our run or what happened. It was real. We had opportunities to win and we’ve taken ownership for it. We go to work and talk about our goals and the high expectations every week. A championship is what we’re working towards.”