Westlake became the seventh school in GHSA history to win four consecutive state titles in girls basketball when the Lions defeated Carrollton 64-46 last March in the Class 6A championship game.
Things have changed this season, however. The Lions are going through a rebuilding stage, and that opens the door for other top contenders in what is a deep Class 6A field.
Raven Johnson, the two-time state player of the year, has graduated and is a freshman at the University of South Carolina. Brianna Turnage, another key member of the Lions’ four-year run, graduated after earning honorable mention all-state honors in 2021. And Ta’Niya Latson, a first-team all-state pick last year, transferred to American Heritage in Florida. Latson is a five-star guard who signed with Florida State.
The Lions enter the new year at 5-4 overall, 3-1 in Region 4 and unranked. The MaxPreps ratings currently have them sitting at No. 27 in Class 6A. Westlake will return to the court for the first time in three weeks when it faces Calvary Christian Academy (Fla.) in a tournament Friday night.
Here’s a brief look at some of the top title contenders:
*Kell: The Longhorns were the 5A runners-up in 2020 and gave Westlake its toughest game in the playoffs last season, losing 55-46 in the quarterfinals. Kell is 11-0 overall this year and a consensus top-five team. The Longhorns’ star is Crystal Henderson, a first-team all-state player each of the past two seasons. She is the school’s all-time leading scorer midway through her junior season.
*River Ridge: The Knights made the first semifinal appearance in school history last season, and at 11-1 they appeared primed for another long playoff run. Junior guard Mataya Gayle, a second-team all-state selection last season, averages 18.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 3.8 steals. River Ridge hosts Cambridge Tuesday night in a battle for sole possession of first place in Region 7.
*Carrollton: The Trojans were the state runners-up last season and currently sit at No. 1 in the MaxPreps and Score Atlanta rankings. Carrollton is 11-0 overall (4-0 in Region 5) against a challenging schedule and return to action Wednesday against Carver-Columbus, a consensus top-three team in Class 4A. Senior point guard Kehinde Obasuyi was an honorable mention all-state selection last season.
*Lovejoy: The Wildcats suffered heavy graduation losses last year but still were able to reach the semifinals for the fourth time in five seasons. They are now led by a pair of young guards – junior La’Nya Foster and sophomore Bryanna Preston, both of whom are all-state candidates. Lovejoy is 9-3 overall and 3-0 and in first place in Region 4, just ahead of one-loss teams Hughes and Westlake.
*Buford: The Wolves had a four-year streak of titles broken last season with a loss to Lovejoy in the quarterfinals, but they are always a threat, having reached the quarters 15 consecutive seasons, with eight titles in that stretch. Ava Grace Watson, selected to the Atlanta Tipoff Club Naismith High School Underclassmen Watch List, leads this year’s group. Buford is 8-3 overall, 1-0 in Region 8.
*Brunswick: The Pirates are 10-0 and defeated Wesleyan 79-76 to win their bracket at the prestigious Beach Ball Classic. Shamya Flanders, a 6-foot junior forward, was a first-team all-Region 2 pick at Glynn Academy last season before transferring. Brunswick’s fate in Region 2 likely will be determined when it meets fellow top-10 team Statesboro on Jan. 14 (home) and Feb. 8 (away).
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