Coach: Angela Hurt, fifth season
Last season: 1-24
Key returners: F Gina Fishler (Jr.), F Tesa Ajorbor (So.), F Morgan Day (So.)
Key newcomers: G Ansley Carver (So.), G Carson Cloud (Fr.), F Elizabeth Pruitt (Fr.)
Outlook: Improving on last season’s performance doesn’t look like a tough ask for the Bulldogs, mainly because there’s almost nowhere to go but up. In their transition year from Class 5A to 7A, Central won just one game and struggled to fill holes with just four players coming back.
Head coach Angela Hurt then has to reinforce to the Bulldogs that things have changed. Some of their most important returners are underclassmen, mainly post players, and multiple freshman additions give the program a youthful look. Hurt is confident that this year’s squad has more scoring options, at least.
"I think after coming off a year like last year, we will need to learn that we aren’t that team, and believe that we can win and be confident in the abilities of the people around us,” Hurt said.
Coach: Damon Taylor, first season
Last year: 1-16
Key returners: G Sydney Haisten (Sr.), F Bennett Ross (So.), G Erin Wisler (So.)
Key newcomers: F Kailee Harper (Jr.,) G Ava Green (Fr.), G Hannah Waddy (Fr.)
Outlook: This year will be head coach Damon Taylor’s first pulling double duty with the school’s basketball programs – he also leads the Warriors’ boys program, which has won back-to-back GICAA state titles. The girls program has been a less reliable presence – it didn’t even field a team two seasons ago – but Taylor is excited to learn more about the team’s makeup and potential, even if Sydney Haisten is the only senior coming back.
“This year’s team will have to rely on execution,” Taylor said. “We won’t be bigger, faster or stronger than the other teams, so we’ll have to be sound in our execution.”
Coach: Jaime Fisher, fourth season
Last season: 26-3
Key returners: F/C Jaleah Greene (Sr.), F/C Sidney Chason (Sr.), G Skylar Aledia (Sr.)
Key newcomers: G Ansley Dean (Jr.), G Grace Gomez (Jr.), G Jenny McKenna (Jr.)
Outlook: The Longhorns have sustained an unfortunate setback before even playing a game, as senior M.E. Craven tore her ACL and meniscus before the season and will be out for the year. Craven was one of the Lambert’s most important presences last year, a do-everything wing who helped run the Longhorns’ transition attack and was a lockdown defender, but this year’s team has plenty of names who can step up in her place.
All-county first team forward Jaleah Greene, who averaged 8.6 and 6 rebounds last year, is set to return, and she’ll pair with Sydney Chason to give Lambert a very strong interior presence. The Longhorns have speed and agility at the guard spot, with Summer Edwards and Skylar Aledia coming back there, and with six seniors in total, this team has the experience and poise to make a repeat region title a very realistic possibility.
“Our returning players will have to step up more, and our new players are going to have to rise to the challenge of defending our region championship,” Fisher said.
Coach: Eric Herrick, seventh season
Last season: 21-8
Key returners: F Cassie Markle (Sr.), G Caroline Martin (So.), G Amber Jones (Sr.)
Key newcomers: G Catherine Shope (Sr.), F/C Kate Perryman (Fr.)
Outlook: North was agonizingly close to a region title last year, losing by just one point to Lambert. That loss has motivated the Raiders throughout the offseason, and that motivation, combined with an experienced group of returners and newcomers that fill necessary holes, make them the top contender for the region title heading into the season.
Caroline Martin, who earned all-county honors as a freshman last year, is back to play the point, and Amber Jones should provide a consistent outside threat as a senior. Shope, a transfer from The King’s Academy of the GICAA, is another sharpshooter who can take defensive pressure off of Jones. Markle, a Georgia College commit, is a reliable scorer down low, and hyper-athletic freshman Kate Perryman helps lessen the loss of multiple seniors in the paint.
“Our depth may be our biggest strength,” head coach Eric Herrick said. “We have numerous experienced players at almost all positions.”
Coach: Ken Lacy, fourth season
Last season: 21-7
Key returners: G Regina Metz (Sr.), F Maddie Lynch (Sr.), G Molly Dankowski (Sr.)
Key newcomers: N/A
Outlook: Pinecrest has a high standard to meet this year. The Paladins reached the state quarterfinals this year, the longest playoff run in school history, and they did it with just seven players in the rotation by the end of the season. Head coach Ken Lacy has the idea of playing shorthanded ingrained into the program’s philosophy, with intense conditioning sessions even during the summer.
Replacing county Player of the Year Margaret Metz, who averaged 24.3 points per game and left as the program’s all-time scoring leader, will be a challenge. The senior trio of Lynch, Dankowski and Metz’s sister Regina, who already has eclipsed 1,000 career points, is a good start, though. The current group of Paladins has already played a busy summer camp schedule.
“This group has already gotten used to playing without the girls that came before them,” Lacy said.
Coach: Keith Gravitt, 14th season
Last season: 18-10
Key returners: F Sara Idris (Sr.), F/C Zoe Maisel (Sr.), G Abi Franco (Sr.)
Key newcomers: G Amanda Mikus (Sr.), G Sophie Rosin (So.)
Outlook: A tricky non-region schedule, with two top-10 teams and a high-quality tournament over winter break at the Andrew Johnson Bank Ladies’ Classic, has War Eagles head coach Keith Gravitt, the longest-tenured girls coach in the county, hopeful that South will be ready for what looks like a challenging region.
“Our goal is to be playing our best basketball when we reach (the) region schedule,” Gravitt said.
The War Eagles’ wealth of returning experienced, like all-county second teamer Zoe Maisel and North Florida commit Sara Idris, has them off to a solid start towards that goal. Also returning is guard Amanda Mikus, who missed all of her junior year due to injury.
Coach: David May, sixth season
Last season: 15-14
Key returners: G Allyson Drawdy (Sr.), G Nicole Toole (Sr.), F Sarah Padgett (So.)
Key newcomers: N/A
Outlook: West has gotten into the rhythm of having more newcomers than returning experience. That happened last year when Kalie Schlegel was the only returning starter, and now with Schlegel and all-county honorable mention Abby Quincy gone, just four of the Wolverines’ players are upperclassmen.
The Wolverines will likely be a perimeter focused-team this year, with seniors in Allyson Drawdy and Nicole Toole as leaders in experience, and head coach David May is optimistic about the new faces around the program.
“(I’m) excited about this season because it is a brand new start for us,” May said.