They are just two players. One helped her team go from six wins and anonymity to 20 and the state tournament. The other immediately became the focal point of every opponent’s game plan and still averaged 22.5 points per game.
South Forsyth guard Sarah Myers and West Forsyth center Jenna Staiti are just rising sophomores, but already they provide a glimpse into where Forsyth County girls basketball may be headed soon.
"There’s no doubt having [Staiti] in the county, along with other good players in the county, is going to bring a lot of attention to Forsyth girls basketball," West coach David May said.
That would be new.
Looking at state semifinals appearances by county over the past five seasons, the rest of metro Atlanta has owned the spotlight. Gwinnett has the most appearances with 19, followed by DeKalb with 13, Fulton with 11 and Clayton, Cobb and Richmond with six each. Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett teams have won 23 out of 27 state championships over the same period.
The last notable state tournament run by a Forsyth team was in 1986 when Forsyth Central made the Class 4A quarterfinals. Since then, no team has advanced past the second round.
"I know there’s a stigma [in Forsyth], especially in girls basketball," North Forsyth coach Eric Herrick said. "There’s not a tradition in being extremely competitive at the state level."
The rest of the metro Atlanta’s counties all have similar advantages over Forsyth. They are larger school systems which produce deeper pools of talent. They compete against each other, which creates teams un-nerved by the pressures of the state tournament. They have history, which demands incredible standards of play from every new class of talent.
Sure, they deal with the stigma of transfer and recruiting, but that’s a surface issue. Players are often transferring within their own county – from Tucker to Miller Grove, from Mill Creek to Parkview, from Sprayberry to McEachern. The amount of players transferring into the county is almost undetectable.
It highlights the biggest advantage the rest of metro Atlanta has over Forsyth, one that May noticed immediately when he took the West head coaching position last season after nine seasons at Liberty Union High School near Columbus, Ohio.
There, May’s players first played basketball in kindergarten, moved on to developmental leagues until the third grade and then took to the AAU circuit.
Here, May found many players don’t start playing organized basketball until the seventh grade.
"One thing I think we’re far behind is when our kids start playing," May said. "Skill-level wise, it’s behind."
But, May said, that’s improving.
"I think the park and recreation department is getting kids at younger ages," he said. "I think we have coaches in the county who are great ambassadors of the game and encourage kids to play more."
Myers and Staiti are proof of the encouraging trend.
A year before Myers arrived, South went 6-20. The 5-foot-9 combo guard promptly earned a starting spot and averaged 18.9 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 2.8 assists per game. The Lady War Eagles went 20-9 and made the Class 6A tournament, losing in the first round to eventual state champion Norcross. Myers was a first-team all-region selection.
Staiti’s arrival was more obvious. The Lady Wolverines’ offense immediately went through the 6-foot-5 center.
"You have to game-plan for her or else she’ll dominate," Herrick said.
Game-plans or not, Staiti dominated anyway. She averaged 22.5 points per game and joined Myers as a first-team all-region selection.
"She’s a difference-maker type of player," May said. "She’s a player you don’t coach very often. A player with her size and skill set and the potential she has is unlimited."
But more than numbers, Myers and Staiti bring notoriety to Forsyth girls basketball. They are high-level Division I talents. May said college coaches have told him Staiti may be the top-ranked post player in the entire Class of 2016. Myers could become one of the class’s top guards.
And Herrick could have one of the top teams this season with an exciting core of Caroline Bowns, Lochlain Corliss and Avery Scarbrough returning after going 24-6 and reaching the second round of the Class 6A tournament last season.
"If you look at the teams and players and the fact that the majority of players right now are young," May said, "I think it’s definitely on the upswing."
Brian Paglia is sports editor at the Forsyth County News. He can be reached at 770-205-8982 or email@example.com. On Twitter? Follow him @BrianPaglia.