November 17, 2013

Ready to go inside

Schools take to the hardwood this week

The Daily Citizen
sports@daltoncitizen.com

— The days and nights are cooler, most area football teams have put away the pads for another year and Thanksgiving menus are being planned.

That can mean only one thing: It’s time to tip off on the high school hardwood.

The 2012-13 postseason was a mixed bag for basketball programs in Murray and Whitfield counties. Six local teams claimed top-four finishes at their respective region tournaments, with the boys and girls squads at Dalton, North Murray and Northwest Whitfield all doing so to advance to state. But only Northwest’s boys came away with a region title and only North Murray’s boys survived the first round of state.

Whether their finish was frustrating or rewarding, though, a new season means it’s time to move on for all of the area high school varsity teams, a number that now stands at 15 with Morris Innovative’s boys making the jump to the higher level of competition after two seasons of playing a junior varsity schedule.

Several area teams start their schedule this week, with everyone except Dalton’s boys — who in coach Mike Duffie’s tenure have traditionally waited until early December to tip off — in action by Thanksgiving weekend.

Here’s a look at what the season might hold for each of them.



Christian Heritage



With five of 11 players on the Christian Heritage boys basketball roster busy preparing for Friday’s football game at Darlington, where a first-round matchup in the Class A private school state playoffs awaits the Lions, a slow start on the court seems likely.

Nevertheless, coach Anthony Moseley, who led the Lions to an 8-14 record last season — his first with the team and the school’s first against Georgia High School Association competition — is optimistic about the Lions and their chances in Region 6-A in 2013-14.

“We should be a lot better once we get the football players with us,” Moseley said. “Playing in the GHSA last year for the first time certainly will help ... the competition is a lot better. We also have more athleticism.”

Cameron Locke, a sharpshooting 5-foot-11-inch senior guard, is the lone returning starter. Locke, who averaged 10 points per game last season, set a school record with eight 3-pointers in a game.

At least until the football players join the Lions, other likely starters are senior forward Jake Porter, junior forward/center Chase Tidwell and sophomores Will Jackson, a forward/center, and Tyler Tipton, a guard/forward. All are listed at 6-2 or 6-3. On the bench is guard/forward Eli Duncan.

Coming from the football squad will be senior center Andrew McEntyre, the team’s tallest player at 6-5, and classmates Hutch Crawford, a guard, and Nich Bartley, a guard/forward, as well as sophomore guard Tyson Cooper.

Lady Lions coach Heather Lowery heads into her 14th season leading the program expecting vast improvement from last year’s 5-20 season. The Lady Lions had several deep postseason runs during their five years of competition in the Georgia Independent School Association, making the semifinals three times and the title game once in Class 2A.

“We had graduated a lot of people from the year before, and we were playing in the GHSA for the first time,” Lowery said of last season. “We should be a lot better. We have more maturity this year. Our girls played more summer ball.”

Junior forward Sarah Massengale returns after averaging 14 points and 11 rebounds last season, while Jordan Suddath averaged seven rebounds per game. Senior guards Alexis Poag and Drew Tipton are also returning starters, while quality defense is expected from the likes of guards Molly Crawford (Sr.) and Ransley Defoor (Jr.) and forwards Julia McDonald (So.) and Megan McKinney, (Sr.).

Others on the roster are sophomore guard Baleigh McAllister and five freshmen — guards Ashley Clements, Erin Leonard and Pressley Poag, plus forwards Sydney Davis and Mikayla Russell.

Christian Heritage’s girls open their season at 6 p.m. Saturday at home against Dalton. The Lions’ season begins Nov. 26 against Murray County.



Coahulla Creek



There are plenty of familiar faces around for the Colts, who return four of five starters from last season after losing to graduation Jordan Tant and Cordarius Tarver, who led in both scoring and rebounding in 2012-13.

Matthew Queener, the only head coach the Colts have had since the school opened in 2011, looks beyond the points and sees a team that can make great strides with multiple players having varsity experience.

“It will be the first year that we will have a very balanced attack,” said Queener, whose Colts have won just three games over the past two season. “With as much depth and balance that we have this season, I think we’ll see better results.”

Strength in the backcourt will be the Colts asset, as seniors Levi Wilson, Michael Ward and point guard Blaine Williams all return. Senior guard Taylor Poteet will add outside shooting depth, along with junior guard Clark Hatfield. Senior guard Darius Miller and juniors Andrew Fisher, Josh Foxx and Reilly McMillan provide help off the bench.

“If hard work is any indicator of how we will be this season, we’ll be just fine,” Queener said.

For the Lady Colts, second-year coach Ryan Long also has all of his starters back from a team that went 7-19. They’ll look for better results but expect a competitive Region 5-3A.

“Sonoraville and Cartersville will be strong, and the front-runners,” Long said. “The rest of the teams will be in the mix. From three all the way down, it could be anyone’s night. We will really have to bear down and take care of our home court.”

Back is the Lady Colts’ leading scorer and senior guard Haley Reece, along with junior Macey Fossett and sophomore Bethany Goodwin, who will provide an inside-out balance of scoring and rebounding. In the post, Nikki Ross has gained some experience over the summer, and Long said her growth will add depth to the team.

“Nikki has really come a long way with trying to create her shot over the summer,” Long said.

Juniors Sydney Storey and Ashton Patterson will round out the backcourt, with forward Taylor Ogle and guard Rachael Cherry providing quality minutes as reserves.

Coahulla Creek’s season opens at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Tennessee’s Polk County.



Dalton



With the school’s football season extended by a week — the Catamounts lost 13-10 to Alexander on Friday in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs — Dalton’s boys are a little behind in answering some of the basic questions.

Like, for instance, who will fill the starting lineup.

“We’ve got a lot of questions to be answered,” Cats coach Mike Duffie said, “and I have to find the people to fill the roles. We have to establish everybody’s role. In past years I’ve had that, but this year it’s up in the air.”

Dalton finished 19-8 last season and lost in the opening round of the Class 4A state tournament. The Cats also lost three times to rival Northwest Whitfield, including in the Region 7-4A championship at Dalton’s own Cats Den.

Replacing eight seniors — and all five starters — will be the biggest challenge.

“We’ve always wanted to score 70 or 80 points,” said Duffie, who is entering his eighth season at Dalton. “I don’t know if that is our team this year. We may be a more patient team this year.”

The Cats definitely will have guard Braxton Thomas and forward Emier Bownan, both juniors, and senior guard Chris Childs.

“By January we’ll be all right,” Duffie said. “By the time region play starts, we’ll be all right.”

The Lady Cats are also without experience — as well as their head coach of a decade.

Dalton girls basketball enters a new era with Lacie Coquerille, who takes over for Jeff McKinney after he moved into the athletic director’s chair at the school. Coquerille was a four-year starter at point guard for McKinney, who had coached the program since 2002, and she served as an assistant on his staff last year, when the Lady Cats finished with a 21-8 record and took third place in Region 7-4A.

“We’ve had a lot of change with coach McKinney leaving and six seniors graduating,” Coquerille said.

One of those seniors was Maddie Howell, The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Girls Basketball Player of the Year for 2012-13.

Dalton’s only two seniors this season are guards Destinee Woods and Emily Sherrill and the Lady Cats will also rely on juniors Anna Kate Sisson (guard), Sarah Hartshorn (guard) and 5-10 post Hannah Cox. Junior posts Mia and Callie Smith — the two are sisters — also will play important roles.

“It’s hard on anybody to lose experience,” Coquerille said. “As far as being new, it’s nice to have younger kids because you’ll have them for longer than just this season.”

The Lady Cats open their season at 6 p.m. Saturday at Christian Heritage, while the boys tip off Dec. 7 against Gordon Central.



Morris Innovative



As they begin varsity play, the Tigers enter Region 7-2A looking for positives amid a season expected to be used for growth.

“The good thing about coaching this team is the expectations are not high,” Morris Innovative coach Doug Peters said. “Anything we do is a positive.”

Peters replaces Eric Williams as the team’s coach after two years as a boys assistant and the girls head coach. The Lady Tigers will play a second year of junior varsity with Ric Murry coaching.

For the boys, the roster is thin at 10 players and “four or five” returning from last year’s team with playing experience, Peters said.

“Then we have some who have never stepped on the floor,” he added.

Morris Innovative will showcase two experienced guards in senior Russell Burse and sophomore Justin Scott. Tevin Robertson, another senior, will play one of the forward positions, while junior Markeeze Suggs will handle the other.

Last season, the Tigers finished 7-11 playing JV teams.

“A lot of these guys would never have this experience anywhere else,” Peters said. “We have a couple who could play at Dalton or somewhere else, but a lot wouldn’t have that opportunity. They wouldn’t make the team. So we give them that opportunity, and that is special.”

The Tigers, who will play home games at their school’s gymnasium, open the season Nov. 25 in Sonoraville High School’s tournament.



Murray County



After failing to make the Class 2A state playoffs with a senior-heavy roster last season, the Indians are young again.

Murray County graduated eight seniors — including the entire starting lineup — after a 13-13 showing and will rely on fresh faces with hopes of making the state playoffs for the first time since 2010-2011.

Three seniors — Cesar Romero, a 6-2 post, and guards Jagger Childers and Nick Stiles — all played bench roles last season. So did juniors David Bennett, a 6-3 post, and point guard Alex Hicks. Sam Lanier, a transfer from Christian Heritage, is another junior guard.

“He’s really quick,” Murray County coach Greg Linder said of Lanier. “He’s still in the learning stages of offense and defense, but we feel he’ll be able to help us down the road.”

The rest of Murray County’s roster is made up of sophomores and freshmen, but Linder still feels this team could thrive once the Region 7-2A tournament comes.

“By the end of the year in region tournament time, we expect to be competing,” said Linder, who enters his ninth season coaching the Indians. “We know some sophomores will have to play. We just don’t know who yet.”

The Lady Indians’ situation is opposite that of the boys’. Girls coach Michael Hill has an experience-laden team hoping to make a postseason run.

Murray County finished 9-18 last year but returns its entire roster, which had zero seniors.

“We have pretty good chemistry,” said Hill, who begins his fourth season coaching the program. “Right now, we’re just focused on depth.”

The Lady Indians have three seniors — 5-9 post Caitlyn Sims, 5-7 post Holly Stanfield and point guard McKenzie Carroll. Guards Kaitlyn Richardson, Shea Pendley and Alex Johnson are juniors, while sophomore Aubrie Osborne is another guard.

“I’m expecting with some good senior leadership that we’ll be real competitive,” Hill said. “Our goal is always to make the state playoffs.”

In the region race, Hill labeled Calhoun and Model as the top teams in the league while Armuchee also should challenge for a spot at state.

“We have a lot of the big things worked out already. We’re working on the smaller details.”

Murray County’s season opens Friday at Gilmer.



North Murray



The lost statistics are stark for North Murray boys basketball coach Tim Ellis as the Mountaineers launch their bid for a Region 5-3A title and a third consecutive state tournament appearance.

“It’s an adjustment any time you lose more than 90 percent of your scoring and 92 percent of your rebounding,” said Ellis, whose Mountaineers went 22-8 and lost in the second round a year ago, his first season as coach. “We’ll do things by committee, but we’re 12 players deep and I feel good about that.”

The committee chairmen are senior posts Omar Romero and Cody Collins, who is back on the court after deciding not to play last season — by midseason Collins regretted sitting out, Ellis said.

Perimeter firepower comes from Alex Viars, Adrian Cook, Mason Pittman, Lucas Sexton and Noah Allen, all juniors except for Allen, a freshman who is likely sidelined until Christmas due to a football injury.

Ellis will also rely on juniors Hinton McConkey and Payton Swilling and sophomore Drake McCowan once they get football out of their systems. Juniors Nathan Spivey and Seth Satterfield and sophomore Jordan Couch will contribute significant minutes as well.

“There’s no reason we can’t get back to state,” Ellis said. “Having that experience is a plus.”

For the Lady Mountaineers, talented juniors also have to make solid contributions to the effort.

Eight juniors will replace seven seniors that sparked the team’s 17-12 record and a trip to last season’s state tournament, where North Murray lost to Elbert County in the first round.

“We’ve had a taste of it,” said Lady Mountaineers coach Keith Robinette, who’s in his fourth season in charge. “Our junior class is pretty good number-wise and talent-wise. They’ve been in quality ballgames that meant something, and I think they’re hungry.”

North Murray has only two seniors, Kara Deal and Grace Phillips — the latter will become the program’s first four-year starter — and Megan Pittman and Erin Robinson, a 6-foot-2-inch post, head the junior class.

Another junior, Emma Gossage (5-11), won’t be available until Christmas due to a knee injury. Baylee Sutton, Amber Shook, Kelsey Shelton, Reilly Wright and Amber Bandy round out the class.

“These juniors are major minute-type kids that bring a lot to our team,” Robinette said.

Freshmen Hannah Long and Katelyn Crumbley have been impressive in preseason workouts, he added.

North Murray opens the season Friday when Tennessee’s Polk County comes to visit.



Northwest



Last season was perhaps the best for the complete basketball program as the boys won their first region championship ever and the girls finished as the region runner-up. But first-round exits at state left a bitter taste.

The Bruins finished with a 23-4 record, but a loss at home to Grady in the first round ended the postseason run.

From that team, Northwest lost The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Boys Basketball Player of the Year for 2012-13, O’Shea Hill, who graduated, as well as a lot of depth around him.

Senior point guard Tevin McDaniel and forward Tanner Bailey are the only returning starters from last year, and last year’s sixth man — Caleb Storey — is the team’s leading returning scorer after averaging 10 points per game.

But despite the loss of Hill and the lack of a proven scorer, Bruins coach Ryan Richards is optimistic about the season.

“I think we have a really strong nucleus coming back,” Richards said. “We won a lot of games last year, and the guys coming back got a ton of experience last year with a lot of minutes at the varsity level.”

Nick Bramblett and Aaron Ball — a senior who missed all of last season after a knee injury — will be relied on in the middle, which Andy Whisenant on the wing.

“We have a lot of depth,” Richards said. “The biggest issue is finding time to play them. We don’t have any really big guys, but they are all pretty good.”

For the Lady Bruins, Halle Ford returns at point guard and will be a four-year starter. Coach Greg Brown — he’s in his third season in charge after leading the team to a 19-9 mark last season, which ended with a loss to Marist — Northwest makes no bones about putting a lot of pressure on her shoulders this season.

“That is where it will all start for us,” Brown said. “She has a lot of experience and has made a lot of big plays in some big games. We know what we are getting with her, and she will have to be the leader of this team and carry a lot of responsibility on her back.”

Ford averaged nine points and six assists last year, and she will be joined by returning starter Macy Weeks, a post. Mallory Souther, an offensive spark off the bench last season, will step into a starting spot in the paint as well.

“She has played a lot and knows what I expect,” Brown said. “She can score and can get to the basket.”

How successful of a season this year is for the Lady Bruins may depend on their youth. Sophomores Mary Kate Allen and Peyton Maret — both 5-10 — will see plenty of time. Brown’s style is to play a lot of people in a fast-tempo game, so there will be a lot of young players on the floor.

Northwest’s season opens at 7 p.m. Friday at Tennessee’s East Hamilton.



Southeast



Fresh start might be a great way to describe Jim Case’s attitude coming into his first season leading Southeast’s boys program. The school’s gym floor has been refurbished and repainted and the locker rooms have been updated.

Case, previously an 11-year assistant for Dalton High’s boys and girls, also hopes the Raiders will use his infusion of enthusiasm and style to start fresh after going 4-22 last season.

Using the dribble-drive offense made popular by the Kentucky Wildcats, Case said the Raiders will be “upbeat” on offense and defense.

“We’re going to emphasize a lot of pressure,” he said. “We’re going to be up and down the floor.”

Senior Rhett Harper will bring leadership and maturity as a point guard and “leads the floor well,” Case said. Sophomore Ty Pendley will show strong shooting skills but excels as a defender, too.

Other expected contributors are seniors Cole Gillean, Jonathon Sanchez, Nick Stuard and Hunter Young, junior Chaz Payne and sophomore Noah Ramsey.

“Everyone’s enjoyed our change of style,” Case said. “I think the fans will enjoy it, too.”

For the Lady Raiders, second-year coach Mike Durham believes strong team competition, great effort and relentless pressure could help his team be strong again this year after a 15-11 finish last season. That was a vast improvement over the one-win campaign in 2011-12.

Crickett Wyatt, a 5-7 junior, should spearhead the Lady Raiders scoring as she was the second-leading scorer last year. She’s recovering from a knee injury, but Durham is confident she and 5-10 senior post Wendy Perez will combine as team leaders.

On the outside, sophomore Sidney Covington and junior Juddelle Herrera will do much of the ball handling. More help at guard will come from sophomores Tori Brock and Angie Purkey.

Durham is expecting strong post play from Emily Beck, Serena Ramsey, Gabby Gonzales and Rachel Smedley. Miranda Bates will also see time on the wing.

“We’ve got to play hard and limit our mistakes and I think we’ve got a decent shot,” Durham said. “Crickett and Wendy had a great summer. I like to play nine to 10 girls. And I like to have two teams ready so they all say, ‘I need to be getting it done.’ Every year, I expect more out of the girls.”

Southeast’s season tips off at 6 p.m Tuesday at home against Gilmer.



Compiled by sports writers Devin Golden and Chris Whitfield and correspondents Larry Fleming, Dave Gordon, Doug Hawley and Jeff Rancudo.