We’re at the mid-point of the high school basketball season, so the FCN’s sports staff of Foster Lander and Brian Paglia break down first-half superlatives.
GIRLS' PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Lander: This one is the easiest choice I’ll make, despite how good Lochlain Corliss and Caroline Bowns have been for North and Sarah Myers’ continued excellence for South. None of them have been as consistently overpowering as West’s junior center. Even in a Dec. 19 game at Lambert where she struggled offensively (and even then, Staiti still scored 15), she still pulled down 12 rebounds and blocked eight shots. You wouldn’t hear any argument from Eric Herrick or Keith Gravitt on this one.
Paglia: There are plenty of viable Girls’ POY candidates in Forsyth County, from last year’s winner in South Forsyth guard Sarah Myers, to North Forsyth’s senior duo of Caroline Bowns and Lochlain Corliss. But only West Forsyth’s Jenna Staiti can truly dominate the game on both ends of the floor. And there are no doubts about her mental toughness. Despite enduring physical double- and triple-teams every game, Staiti produces.
BOYS' PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Lander: We saw Tanner Hall’s ability to make plays in the air as a wide receiver for Lambert’s football team time and time again this season. For my money, he’s the most exciting boys player to watch in Forsyth County. He gets into the lane at will and makes acrobatic layups (while making ridiculous faces), is an active defender in Lambert’s full-court press, and is the Longhorns’ most consistent three-point shooter. Hall is one of a small handful of players in the county who can score 10 or 12 points in a row before you can blink.
Paglia: The reality is that Lambert junior guard Tanner Hall isn’t going to win the county scoring title. That will probably eventually belong to North Forsyth’s Dakota Holtzclaw or West Forsyth’s Jimmy Staiti. Longhorns head coach Scott Bracco’s system doesn’t encourage one dominant scorer to emerge. But that shouldn’t diminish Hall’s POY candidacy. He’s the leader of the county’s best boys’ team, its best shooter and penetrator and makes solid decisions.
GIRLS' COACH OF THE YEAR
Lander: North Forsyth nearly made it to 2015 undefeated, until a loss to defending Tennessee state champion Elizabethton on Dec. 29 at the Carolina Invitational. Still, the Lady Raiders won two of three in Charleston, and they’re in first place in Region 6-AAAAAA with a 7-0 mark. North’s average margin of victory in its seven region wins: 22.7 points. Lochlain Corliss and Caroline Bowns lead Herrick’s swarming defense (only 38.7 points allowed per game in region play) and the backcourt pair gives Herrick two viable scoring threats every night.
Paglia: Gosh, I almost don’t know what to do with this one. South Forsyth’s Keith Gravitt and West Forsyth’s David May both have compelling cases. But each had virtually their entire starting lineup return from last season. So I’d give a slight edge to North Forsyth’s Eric Herrick for keeping the Lady Raiders at the top of the region standings while incooperating so many freshmen and sophomores into the rotation and staying successful.
BOYS' COACH OF THE YEAR
Lander: Scott Bracco’s teams have always been entertaining. They’ve also nearly always been really, really good. Bracco would tell you his Lambert team this year has a long way to go to match last year’s Sweet Sixteen appearance, and they do, but he has 10 guys that play regularly and look like they belong. He has a reliable point guard in Jake Morris, a dangerous scoring threat in Tanner Hall, strong post players in Ross Morkem and Connor Mannion, and a horde of wing players. Lambert plays a high-energy style, and when the Horns are at their best, they’re sharing the basketball and putting eight or nine players on the scoresheet.
Paglia: I’m sorry, but there’s really only one reasonable choice when you consider that every local GHSA boys’ basketball program has a losing record - except for Lambert. Scott Bracco has the Longhorns off to an 11-3 start overall and 6-1 in Region 6-AAAAAA, a fine accomplishment considering he had to replace a veteran core of Joe Bates, Logan Bush and Trevor Shipes, all double-figure scorers who were leaders. Instead of a drop-off, Lambert is just rolling along.
SECOND-HALF STORYLINES TO WATCH
1. Can South, North girls match deep playoff runs of last season?. North plays at South on Tuesday in the first rematch of last year’s Region 6-AAAAAA title game—won by North—and it should give both the Lady Raiders and War Eagles a true picture of where they stand. South recovered from its region title game loss to reach the first Final Four in school history. North finished 28-3, but one of those losses came in the Elite Eight to eventual state runner-up Archer. Early season results from this year say North and South were by no means flukes last season (North is ranked No. 3 and South, No. 7 in Class AAAAAA), but they can stamp Forsyth County’s place on the girls basketball map with similar playoff runs this time around.
2. How far can Jenna Staiti carry West?. West coach David May has a 6-foot-5 center, ranked among the top 30 juniors in the country by some recruiting services, and he’s no dummy. The Lady Wolverines feed Jenna Staiti the ball every trip down the floor, bypassing 3-pointers and mid-range jump shots in favor of layups for Staiti. Why do anything else? Abby Quincy, Jasmine Rodriguez, the Parker sisters and Jane Ortlip can score when opponents focus too much on Staiti, but when West needs a basket, there’s no debate as to who they’re looking for. West drew Archer in the first round of last year’s state playoffs, but a 6-1 start in region play this year could mean a better playoff seed—and a chance for Staiti to take them on a run.
1. What can Forsyth County girls’ basketball do for an encore? Girls’ basketball in the county gave us everything we could ask for last season. From the Region 6-AAAAAA championship game between North and South, to West winning a school-record 17 games and reaching the playoffs to North’s and South’s runs to the Elite Eight and Final Four, respectively. There’s just no question last season was the best in county history, and it put the county on the map. But can the county duplicate that success again this season? Each of North, South and West (the “Big 3 Teams” can we call them?) return almost every significant contributor from last season. They proved they could play with powerhouse programs from Gwinnett County. But can they do it again?
2. Can anyone threaten Lambert boys? Well, we know Alpharetta can. The Raiders defeated the Longhorns in the Region 6-AAAAAA championship game last season and got the upperhand in the teams’ first meeting this season, a 76-71 victory on Dec. 12. And then there was the close call against Centennial, a 58-56 victory the Longhorns escaped with on Dec. 13. But otherwise, Lambert has been relatively unchallenged in the county and region. Its three victories against North, South and West came by an average of 27.3 points. Its two other region victories against Chattahoochee and Northview were by 16 and 23 points, respectively. Is it just Alpharetta vs. Lambert the rest of the way? Can any of the county’s other Region 6-AAAAAA teams emerge as a contender?
3. What to make of Central. Forsyth Central’s boys and girls basketball teams both go into the second half of the season with losing records - the Bulldogs at 5-6, the Lady Bulldogs at 4-9. But both also sit right at or near the top of the Region 7-AAAAA, Div. B standings. The Central boys are in a three-way tie for second place at 2-1 and just a half-game behind first-place Riverwood (3-1). The Central girls are tied with Sprayberry for first place and undefeated in the region at 3-0. Is it a product of a weak sub-region or are the Bulldogs for real?