Cherokee girls’ basketball head coach Matt Cates knows what his Lady Warriors are getting into.
He knows the biggest of challenges waits in West Forsyth’s 6-foot-5 center Jenna Staiti when the teams meet Friday in the Class AAAAAA state quarterfinals at the University of West Georgia. The winner advances to the state semifinals at the same site on Saturday.
Staiti, the Maryland signee, has been nearly unstoppable in these state playoffs, averaging 35 points, 15.5 rebounds and seven blocks in the Lady Wolverines’ two games.
Often her impact can suffocate an opponent in the first half alone. Against Mill Creek in the first round, Staiti had 25 points by halftime. Against Newton, she had a double-double.
“I know they got Ms. Georgia Basketball playing for them. If she’s not, I’d be shocked,” Cates said. “They’re well-coached. They got probably the most dominant kid in the state. And she does things the right way. She’s been well-coached.”
Cherokee has been through one version of this already in the state playoffs. The Lady Warriors had to contend with Dacula’s 6-foot-5 center Faustine Aifuwa, an LSU signee, in the first round. Aifuwa was productive – she finished with 26 points – but Cherokee’s combination of pressure defense and outside shooting led to a 53-46 victory.
So maybe they have the blueprint for how to deal with Staiti?
“We’ve got to be able to shoot the ball with consistency, rebound with consistency and play well and keep our assignments defensively,” Cates said.
Cates has certainly established the blueprint for his kind of team. This is his 16th season as the head girls’ basketball coach at the Canton school. After missing the state playoffs his first three seasons, the Lady Warriors have made it 10 of the last 13 years.
This is Cherokee’s second state quarterfinals appearance in the past four seasons under Cates, and it’s the same kind of team as the previous, one that succeeds off its collective discipline more than its individual talent. Freshman Lacie McCoy has led the Lady Warriors in scoring during the state playoffs, averaging 18 points, but Cherokee gets balanced scoring elsewhere from junior guard Kaleigh Karl, sophomore wing Laiken Wade and junior guard Havyn Wilson.
“We always like to think we have a team to make the playoffs,” Cates said. “It takes a lot of luck, a lot of right matchups, things to happen, to make a long run. We’re very fortunate to be in the spot we’re in.”