Region 5-7A boys basketball teams play their first head-to-head games Friday. Forsyth Central hosts South Forsyth, Lambert hosts North Forsyth and West Forsyth hosts Milton.
Here's a look at where teams stand going into the games that count toward positioning themselves well in the region tournament.
The Raiders already have perhaps the strongest resume in the region, with strong wins over Archer on the road, Hillgrove at home, and a competitive loss to Cherokee, one of the best teams in Class 7A. They have a deep stable of returning contributors, and newcomers like senior wing Catherine Shope (23 points per game) and freshman post Kate Perryman (seven rebounds per game) have already made sizable impacts.
Head coach Eric Herrick still thinks there is better basketball to come for North. The Raiders haven't been completely healthy, with Amber Jones, Ansley Allen and Caroline Martin working through injuries, and other contributors "haven't found their stride," Herrick said.
The Raiders open the region schedule on Friday against Lambert, perhaps their strongest competition for the title, and next week, they'll head to Phoenix to compete in the Nike Tournament of Champions, in a bracket with teams from across the country.
Lambert hasn’t shied away from discussing the impact of losing M.E. Craven, their multi-talented senior guard/forward, for the season due to a knee injury. The Longhorns know they aren’t the same team without Craven.
Through seven games, though, Lambert still looks a team that can remain firmly in the top half of the region. The Longhorns’ two losses have come to Eagle’s Landing Christian and Wesleyan, two private school programs with 13 wins between them, and the last game before their region opener against North Forsyth was a convincing 67-47 win over Grayson.
“I’m definitely pleased with the direction that we’re heading,” Lambert head coach Jaime Fisher said.
Lambert is still rich in senior contributors, and Fisher said that those players, like post Jaleah Greene and point guard Summer Edwards, have progressed in Craven’s absence. The Longhorns are working on areas like consistency, defensive decision-making and outside shooting, but Fisher is nonetheless pleased with the team’s status, although she said it isn’t “February-ready” yet.
The War Eagles had an idea that they would have to deal with inconsistency this season, with a backcourt relatively short on experience. In fact, South’s experience with one team tells much of the team’s overall journey so far.
On Nov. 20, in the team’s third game of the season, the War Eagles were blown out 74-46 by Lanier at the Dawson County Thanksgiving Shootout. Less than two weeks later, though, South was victorious against that same team, beating the Longhorns 50-46 at home.
“We felt like we were a better team than we played in that game,” head coach Keith Gravitt said of the first
The War Eagles are largely relying on the senior post duo of Zoe Maisel and Sara Idris this year, and Gravitt said he’s been satisfied with the pair’s production. A diverse group has emerged as contributors in the backcourt, with older players, like senior Abi Franco and junior Olivia Woodson, and a pair of sophomores, in Ryane Williams and Ashley Breindl.
South is still working out kinks, though, as evidenced by the sound 73-39 loss the team sustained against a ranked Cherokee squad on Tuesday.
Even with only roughly a third of their season completed, the Bulldogs can see this campaign as a significant step forward. In 2016-17, Central had just one win. They've already quadrupled that total this season, with three of those victories coming by double-digit margins.
The Bulldogs aren't cashing in on a large group of seniors, either, with guards Sophie Kurtz and Nicki Williams being the only two on the roster. Post Gina Fishler is the lone junior, and the rest of the team is freshmen or sophomores. Head coach Angela Hurt mentioned the Bulldogs' youth as a weak spot, with the team still figuring out the best combinations for success.
Sophomore forward Morgan Day, who hit the late shot against Milton that gave Central its only win last season, has been a bright spot for the Bulldogs so far, scoring 19 points in a 46-28 win over Berkmar and 20 in a loss against Roswell.
Central has already shown serious resilience, too, pulling out a 53-48 win over Lassiter despite trailing by 17 points in the third quarter.
The Wolverines, with just three seniors and no juniors on their roster, have a steep hill to climb this season, and early results haven't been terribly encouraging, with their only two wins coming against Class 1A schools Hebron Christian and Landmark Christian.
West has also played the most games of any county team so far, so much of the Wolverines' learning has come on the fly, rather than in a controlled practice environment.
"We're just trying to gain experience every game we play," head coach David May said.
May was complimentary of the team's attitude and its eagerness to learn, but he recognized that there's a learning curve for varsity basketball that many players hadn't been exposed to, with teams scouting them and taking away their specific strengths.
Jasmine Brown and Taylor Hoard have been contributing as freshmen, and Maggie Quincy, Allie Jackson and Kassidy Kimbro are a few of the sophomore with significant roles. The Wolverines open the region schedule against an 0-4 Milton squad.