Class 2A blog: With pieces in place, Banks County girls confident they can win in postseason

No. 3 Leopards aiming for Elite 8 and beyond

With their 58-14 win over Fellowship Christian in Region 8 action, the No. 3 Banks County Leopards improved to 19-3, 5-0 in 8-2A, and extended their win streak to 12 games.

The streak began after a 52-37 loss to their former region rivals, Rabun County, currently ranked No. 4 in 1A’s Division I, on Dec. 9 in Tiger. Leopards coach Steven Shedd said the team emerged from the loss as changed.

“We were disappointed,” he said. “We outscored them in the second half but we were down 20 at halftime. We weren’t physical or fast enough at (that point in the season), so we went back to work, practice and made that our goal. Sometimes you think you’re good, but then you lose and you see what you have to work on. We’ve been playing at a different level than before that game.”

After the loss, they ripped off three wins over Habersham Central (40-24), Franklin County (61-37) and Commerce (72-44) before a Dec. 20 rematch at home against Rabun County. The Leopards won 76-38 for their first win over Rabun County since the 2019-20 season.

“That was huge for us,” Shedd said. “Going in, we felt like we could beat anyone we had on our schedule, and any time you can beat Rabun County, or a program that has a history of being great, that’s big for the team’s confidence.”

The closest any team has come to the Leopards during the streak is Habersham Central in the teams’ second meeting on Jan. 7, which Banks County won 52-41.

Shedd believes a big reason for the team’s success this season is the emergence of a strong inside-out game, anchored by senior post Kamryn Grier, who averages 13.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, two blocks, 1.9 assists and 1.9 steals. At six-feet, he’s been a fixture in the paint all four years, but this season a plethora of 3-point shooters, led by junior Addison Hoard (11.4 points, 4.3 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 3.6 steals), have lessened her workload.

At 6-foot-1, Carley Segars (8.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.3 steals) compliments Grier down low but can also shoot with range. Senior starter Madison Adams, who leads the team in minutes, junior Valentina Torres and sophomore twins Ryleigh and Reese Murphy also stretch the floor with their long-distance shooting.

“That’s the biggest difference in this year and last,” Shedd said. “A lot of teams could double-team Cam down low and tried to force us to shoot outside. We didn’t quite have the outside game last year that we have this year. It’s harder to double team Cam now, so she’s freed up a bit more and she’s continuing to score under the basket.

“Cam has been such a dominating presence for us since freshman year, and she’s a player other teams definitely have to scout and plan for.”

Hoard leads the “outside” half of the Leopards’ inside-out game, and Shedd said she’s just as vital to the game plan as Grier.

“She’s one of the best point guards I’ve coached,” he said. “She handles the ball and pressure so well, which is why we’ve had success against the press. She sees the floor well, and she’s a good outside shooter. Her biggest asset is defense. She’s high-energy and she’s going to lpay the whole game. You could make an argument for her or Camryn as MVP of the team so far.”

Last year the Leopards played in the shadows of region rivals Rabun County and Banks County, and those two teams eventually played each other in the 2A championship. As a No. 3 seed with a losing record, the Leopards still marched into Atlanta and beat Region 6 No. 2 seed Pace Academy 44-26 to advance to the second round.

With both Rabun County and Elbert County no longer in the region, the Leopards find themselves in prime position to win 8-2A for the first time since 2018. That’s also the last time they reached the Elite 8, where Shedd and the Leopards would like to return.

Aside from Rabun County, they played a number of traditionally successful teams during their non-region schedule, most notably 3A’s No. 3 White County and 4A’s North Hall. They have three regular season games remaining, all against region opponents they’ve already handily beat.

Up next on Saturday is Fellowship Christian (8-9, 0-4) for the second straight game.

Shedd said the Leopards have yet to play their best basketball and can still improve in a number of areas, including offensive rebounding and limiting turnovers. However, as the team sits now, a deep playoff run is the expectation.

“I don’t want to sell this team short,” Shedd said. “We want to get back to the Elite 8 and to the Final Four, and we’d love to get to the championship game and win it. That’s definitely a goal for us, and I think every team, every year, would say, ‘Let’s win us a state championship,’ but some years are more realistic than others. If we continue to play at a high level and start playing even better when the playoffs start, the sky is the limit as far as this team goes.”