Hillgrove girls basketball coach Sheryl Fowler loves a challenge.
That’s why she left a successful career at McEachern to start a new program a few miles down the road in Cobb County when Hillgrove opened in 2006.
“I started at Campbell, and Tom Wilson had that team rolling and that program going, so that was a matter of just maintaining it,” the 52-year-old Fowler said. “Then going to McEachern we had to build, but it wasn’t from scratch, it wasn’t a brand-new building and that kind of thing. We didn’t have to order new equipment and all the other things that are entailed in opening a new school. ... I guess that was really the main reason, coming and building a new program, starting from scratch and hopefully doing a good job and getting me through to retirement.”
Fowler left McEachern with a streak of nine consecutive trips to the state tournament. She hasn’t missed a beat at Hillgrove, taking each of her first three teams to the Class AAAA tournament. On Friday night, the Hawks continued their drive toward another state berth with a 56-38 victory at Woodland-Cartersville.
Junior Larryqua Hall scored 12 of her game-high 18 points in the first quarter as the Hawks built a 24-7 lead. Woodland stayed close behind the play of Alexis Katt, who led the Wildcats with 14 points despite spending most of the night in foul trouble.
Woodland cut the lead to eight points in the third quarter and trailed 41-31 entering the final eight minutes. That’s when Hillgrove broke it open, scoring the first 15 points of the fourth quarter to take a 56-31 lead and put the game away. Senior Tala Black added 11 points, including four in the fourth-quarter run.
“My kids will always play hard,” Fowler said. “I told them the other night that if Northwest [Whitfield, a 58-48 loss on Monday] was beating us by 90 points, we were still going to fight and claw until the bitter end, and they did. You can’t ask any more of the kids than that.”
Hillgrove, which has eight sophomores, two freshmen and only two seniors on its 16-player roster, is 17-6 overall, 11-3 and in fourth place in Region 7-AAAA. To earn another trip to state, the Hawks must finish in the top four in the 15-team region tournament. No. 2 Rome, No. 4 Northwest Whitfield and No. 8 Osborne will be heavy favorites to capture the other playoff spots.
“We really work on fundamentals,” Hall said. “She works us hard and pushes us to do better. We have to run a lot for mistakes that we make like turnovers, missing layups and missed free throws. But it helps us as a team to be more disciplined.”
Fowler got her first job as a varsity head coach at Campbell in 1983 after serving for two years as the freshman coach. She remained at Campbell until moving to McEachern in 1990. The victory Friday night was No. 515 in Fowler’s career and improved her record at Hillgrove to 78-30. She reached the 500-win mark this season when the Hawks beat Forsyth Central 69-57 on Nov. 28.
“It just means I’m old,” Fowler said of the milestone.
Fowler said that she plans to continue coaching at least until her current sophomore class graduates. But even at this point in her career, she still has goals.
“My biggest regret here is that we’ve not won a region championship. We’ve gone to the state every year and that’s something big, but you just don’t have that region banner. I don’t know why people think that the region banner is bigger than going to the state or the Sweet Sixteen. I don’t compute with that too much, but that’s the way it is. ... I told the kids that before I leave here I want a banner up there. So we’ll see.”
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