Wednesday November 25th, 2015 3:18AM

Basketball: Chestatee girls lead the way for area teams in first round of playoffs (VIDEO)

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
GAINESVILLE -- You don't just change an entire program overnight and expect success.

Or do you?

It sure has worked for the Chestatee girls basketball team.

For years, the Lady War Eagles relied on a powerful post presence, but when the 2013-14 season approached and Web Daniel saw no size on his roster, he scrapped an offensive attack that had become a part of the fabric at Chestatee.

The results?

How about the Lady War Eagles first ever region championship and a school record for wins in a campaign.

"We started the season thinking it was going to be a rebuilding year," Daniel said. "We only had one starter back, and most of the girls had played JV last season. And then we got a couple girls decide to come back out for the team and things just started to come together. We've just been playing well all season, and it's been incredible."

(TO WATCH A VIDEO feature with the Lady War Eagles, simply click "play" in the box to the right.)

Tonight, Chestatee will put that incredible season back on the line when they join 20 other area teams in competing in the first round of the state basketball playoffs. (NOTE: Scroll down for a look at all of the area teams competing in this weekend's state playoff games.)

The Lady War Eagles (24-4) will play host to Grady, looking to keep up two more impressive streaks. The game will be broadcast live on WDUN AM 550/102.9 FM beginning at 6 p.m.

"We've never lost a first round playoff game; we're four for four," Daniel said. "And we haven't lost at home here in two years. We're pretty good at home."

The Lady War Eagles also showed they were pretty good at neutral venues this week, claiming the Region 8-AAAA championship over Eastside after trailing for most of the contest. And they did it almost without their most experienced player -- as senior Bridgette Kelly played only a token role while battling an ankle injury.

"We got the monkey off our back," Daniel said. "We've been good for a while now, but we would get there (to a region championship game) and we would lose; it seems something always happens to us. And then this year Bridgette got hurt early. But to win the region without her is impressive."

What else is impressive is the coalescing into the most successful team in program history of a group that -- outside of Kelly -- features several new standouts, as well as two players who spent last season out of basketball in Savanna Long (who took a year off from the sport) and Maggee Wilson (a cross country standout who hadn't come out for basketball in years).

"I knew coming in (to the season) we had a good starting five. But once Maggee came back and got her basketball legs back under her, she was a big part of what we wanted to do," Daniel said. "She comes off the bench, and Savanna Long comes off the bench. When you have two seniors off the bench that gives you a lot to work with. We really have a great rotation now."

What they also have is a group of hard-working guards that can all shoot the ball. In fact, they are leading the state in made 3-pointers.

"We just tell our girls we got to go shoot it," Daniel said. "This has been an easy job coaching because we know we've got to shoot it."

They also have to hustle on defense, and this group -- which also features junior Tyler Bennett and senior Deanna Bradberry, as well as sophomore Kayla Watson -- has out-worked larger teams, denying post-entry passes and creating turnovers in bunches.

"We play good defense. Defense wins games," Kelly said. "As long as we stop big players on other teams, we're fine. Our offense has been built around big players inside but we're all small and we know how to win with what we have."

To get another win tonight the Lady War Eagles will need to be at their best against an athletic Grey Knights squad.

"Grady's going to be tough. They're athletic, long, fast..." Daniel said. "They can shoot better than I thought they could. We're going to have play well."

That said, Chestatee feels it has the make-up not only to get past Grady but to possibly accomplish another first: reach the quarterfinals. For though the Lady War Eagles have won each first round game they have played, they are 0-for-4 in second round contests.

Should they accomplish that feat, the Lady War Eagles can expect a lot of supportive texts and phone calls.

"It's been a building process for a while," Daniel said. "If we lose one or two games, we have people calling back and saying, 'hey guys what are you doing?' We call it LWE (Lady War Eagles). It's a family. All the girls from past teams think they're part of this championship too."

Now LWE hopes that championship is just another step in something even bigger.

First round state playoff match-ups included if available

Gainesville girls at Tucker, 6 p.m. Friday
Gainesville boys at Miller Grove, 6 p.m. Saturday

Class AAAA
Chestatee girls* vs. Grady, 6 p.m. Friday -- RADIO: 550 AM/102.9 FM
Johnson boys* vs. Stone Mountain, 6 p.m. Saturday -- RADIO: 550 AM/102.9 FM
Lumpkin County boys at Columbia, 5:30 p.m. Saturday
Stephens County girls at Columbia, Friday

Class AAA
Buford girls* vs. Ringgold, 6 p.m. Friday
Buford boys* vs. North Murray, 7:30 p.m. Friday
Dawson County girls at Cartersville, 6 p.m. Saturday
Dawson County boys vs. Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe, 7:30 p.m. Friday
East Hall girls vs. North Murray, 7 p.m. Friday
East Hall boys at Ringgold, 6 p.m. Saturday
North Hall girls at Sonoraville, 6 p.m. Friday
White County boys at Cartersville, 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Class AA
Jefferson girls* vs. Lovett, 6:30 p.m. Friday
Jefferson boys* vs. Lovett, 8 p.m. Friday
Rabun County girls vs. Westminster, 6 p.m. Friday
Rabun County boys at Westminster, 6 p.m. Saturday
Union County girls at Wesleyan, 6 p.m. Friday
Union County boys at Greater Atlanta Christian, 7:30 p.m. Friday
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