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Wednesday August 10th, 2022 8:33PM

(VIDEO) 2016 Lanierland tournament offers plenty of storylines

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter

GAINESVILLE — In 2015, the annual Lanierland Tournament made history on several fronts.

The Flowery Branch boys won their first-ever title; the Lakeview Academy girls won two games in the tournament for the first time; and the Gainesville boys did not participate for the first time in more than 40 years. (The Red Elephants withdrew following a tournament in Kentucky that saw several players ejected just days before).

Also in 2015, Flowery Branch had a double celebration as both the girls and boys teams came away with Lanierland Tournament titles, the first time that had happened since East Hall captured both crowns in 2010. For the girls, it was their first since 2003.

The 2016 Lanierland version may not be able to cite historical precedence when it’s all said and done, but it could very well go down as one of the most competitive in its 57-year history, at least on the girls side.

First round action will begin Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. at North Hall with eight games. The contests will move to Gainesville on Thursday and Friday with the semifinal and finals. Thursday's semifinals will begin at 4 p.m. and Friday's finals will tip at 7 p.m. Games will begin both Thursday and Friday at 9:30 a.m. with consolation round action.

There are plenty of storylines to go around in 2016.

Can Flowery Branch's teams repeat? How jacked up will the Gainesville boys be after missing out on last year's tournament? Can the Lakeview Academy girls and boys advance to the finals for the first-time ever? Can both the East Hall teams get back to the championship game? Can a red-hot West Hall girls team get into the finals for the first-time in over a decade?

For many of the coaches, and players, Lanierland, the state's oldest invitational tournament, is more than just records and titles -- it's also about lasting memories. 

Lakeview Academy boys coach Todd Cottrell is one of three coaches (Benjie Wood -- Johnson girls, North Hall boys, Gainesville boys; Bobby Pless -- Chestatee boys, North Hall boys, West Hall boys) to coach three different teams into the tournament. To Cottrell, who also has coached the Flowery Branch boys and Gainesville boys in the tournament, Lanierland is not just your average holiday tournament.

"It is the best holiday tournament in the state," Cottrell said. "The local rivalries, the playoff-like atmosphere, it's got a little bit of everything. This tournament really prepares you for basketball at the end of the season. It's always a lot of fun to be a part of. "

Cottrell also has a unique perspective in that he has led a county team, a city school team, and a private school team into the tournament. Are the outlooks and expectations different for each?

"Maybe a little but every team goes in wanting to win it so that expectation doesn't change," he said. "At Lakeview it's a little different in that we're a lot smaller than the other schools. Last year was the best year we ever had, even though we didn't win on the first night. We were excited about that.

"At Gainesville, they expect to win it every year and at Flowery Branch that was our goal as well. We like our team this year, but we have a tough opener and then probably will see Gainesville (in the second round). It's their tournament to lose, in my opinion."

On the girls side, all but one team comes in with a winning record and Flowery Branch (9-2) is ranked No. 2 in Class AAAAA; West Hall (8-3) is ranked third in Class AAAA; and Lakeview Academy (10-2) is ranked fourth in Class A Private. Chestatee (14-1) has the most wins of any Class AAAA team despite not being ranked, Gainesville (7-2) has played a tough opening schedule, and North Hall (7-6) and East Hall (6-5) played to a slim, three-point East Hall win three weeks ago.

No. 1 seed and defending champion Flowery Branch is taking on a young and winless Johnson team and is expected to move into the semifinals. The other three first round games, however, should offer tough matchups for all involved.

East Hall, the 2015 runner-up, will take on Class AAAA third-ranked and No. 7 seed West Hall, which has won nine straight coming into the tournament. No. 3 seed Gainesville will take on No. 6 seed Chestatee, and No. 4 seed North Hall will tangle with Lakeview Academy and 2015 Region 8-A Player of the Year Hanna Grogan.

On the boys side, only two teams come in with a losing record. Gainesville is ranked No. 1 in Class AAAAAA and is the only undefeated team left in the stat's second-highest classification. Lakeview Academy is sixth in Class A Private, and the pair are considered the top two teams coming into the tournament. However, due to Gainesville’s No. 8 seed, the Red Elephants (10-0) will open against defending Lanierland champion Flowery Branch (10-2) and could meet the Lions (6-3) in the second round if they can get by West Hall (3-6) in their quarterfinal showdown.

East Hall (6-4) will take on Chestatee (4-10) and North Hall (8-4) and Johnson (6-6) will meet in the other two quarterfinal matchups.

(Click here for a history of Lanierland champions).

Below is a brief synopsis of each team heading into the tournament. (Teams listed in alphabetical order):

BOYS

CHESTATEE BOYS
RECORD: 4-10
SEEDING: No. 7 seed
FIRST GAME: vs. East Hall, 5 p.m.
2015 LANIERLAND FINISH: 7th
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Jr. G Donovan Hernandez, Jr. G Cooper Wilson, Sr. F Barron King, Jr. F Nick Lyles
TOURNAMENT HISTORY: No titles
COACH'S CORNER: Kevin Strickland: “We’ve grown up a lot this season through quite a bit of adversity. We’ve lost a couple of games in heartbreaking fashion and we’ve yet to play a game at full strength this year. That being said, it’s easy to see the growth our team has made. We are certainly improving and really looking forward to competing against the Lanierland field as well as our region slate. Our goal going into the tournament is to take it one game at a time and focus on finding victories.”

EAST HALL BOYS
RECORD: 6-4
SEEDING: No. 2
FIRST GAME: vs. Chestatee, 5 p.m.
2015 LANIERLAND FINISH: Runner-up
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Jr. G Luke Cooper, Sr. C Mahki Brown, So. G Luke Holtzclaw, So. P Cambren Harrison, Sr. G Joseph Buffington, Sr. G Tony Martinez
TOURNAMENT HISTORY: 24 titles, most recent in 2010; won 13 of 14 from 1994-2007
COACH'S CORNER: Joe Dix: "We've had a pretty good start, and it's about who makes the plays when the lights come on. I think the atmosphere from year-to-year with everybody getting ready for it and coming together from different regions now -- so that makes it a little more fun. I'm looking forward to it. It's become part of my Christmas holidays. It's part of what this community does around that time and we're looking forward to it again this year. It's going to be a great atmosphere, great crowds, and there's a lot of interest in this tournament."

FLOWERY BRANCH BOYS
RECORD: 10-2
SEEDING: No. 1
FIRST GAME: vs. Gainesville, 8 p.m.
2015 LANIERLAND FINISH: Champion
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. G Brannon Clark, Sr. G John Mills
TOURNAMENT HISTORY: 1 title (2015)
COACH'S CORNER: David Sokol: "Our effort has been good thus far but we still have a lot of room to improve as far as offensive and defensive execution. We're not really thinking about the title. We have to play the most talented team in the state in the first round (Gainesville). We're focusing on this season, not on last year’s accomplishments. We just want to get better to prepare us down the stretch of the season during region play. But, it was exciting for the players, schools and community to win the tournament last year.  It is something they can tell their kids and take pride in for a very long time."

GAINESVILLE BOYS
RECORD: 10-0, ranked No. 1 in Class AAAAAA
SEEDING: No. 8 on boys side
FIRST GAME: vs. Flowery Branch, 8 p.m.
2015 LANIERLAND FINISH: Did not participate
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Jr. F KJ Buffen (injured), Jr. F Bailey Minor, Jr. G Xavier Bledson, Jr. G/F Jarred Rosser, Jr. G/F Jarrel Rosser, Jr. G Kajuan Hale, Sr. G Michael White
TOURNAMENT HISTORY: 18 titles, most recent in 2011; won the first two Lanierland tournaments (1960-61); won 9 of 11 from 1975-1985; only won 2 Lanierland's since 1992
COACH'S CORNER: Benjie Wood: "We really like where our team is right now. We've had several injuries, but our kids have persevered and played very hard. We like our chances. The tournament is bigger than basketball. It gives the community a chance to come together. The environment is second to none."

JOHNSON BOYS
RECORD: 6-6
SEEDING: No. 6
FIRST GAME: vs. North Hall, 2 p.m.
2015 LANIERLAND FINISH: 6th
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr SG Marcus Jones, Sr. W Dwayne Wilson, Jr. SG Qua Butler, Jr. PG Chan Jones, So. PG Kylan Curry
TOURNAMENT HISTORY: 3 titles as Johnson (1988, 2013, 2014); 2 titles as South Hall (1964 & 1967); last team to win back-to-back titles since East Hall (2006-07)
COACH'S CORNER: Tim Slater: "Right now, we're just doing our job...trying to figure out what does and doesn't work. The guys are coachable and learning...but we're a team that is nowhere near its peak or potential. Hopefully that will occur as we approach tournament time. Lanierland is such a special tournament because it means so much to everyone involved. The kids play at a different level, with a different intensity, with a different passion. There are upsets every year, there are Cinderella's, there are Goliath's, there are always compelling storylines."

LAKEVIEW ACADEMY BOYS
RECORD: 6-3, ranked No. 6 in Class A Private
SEEDING: No. 5
FIRST GAME: vs. West Hall, 11 a.m.
2015 LANIERLAND FINISH: 5th
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. F Tre Gober, Sr. F Carter Reeves, Sr. G Josh Randolph, Jr. G Drew Cottrell, So. F Evan Pitts
TOURNAMENT HISTORY: No titles
COACH'S CORNER: Todd Cottrell: "To be honest, we are not playing as well as I would like us to be heading into the tournament. But I am very confident in this group. Hopefully we will play well enough to compete in the tournament."

NORTH HALL BOYS
RECORD: 8-4
SEEDING: No. 1 on boys side
FIRST GAME: vs. Johnson, 2 p.m.
2015 LANIERLAND FINISH: 3rd
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. F Evan Easton, Sr. C Jake Meeler, Sr. G Alden Lewallen
TOURNAMENT HISTORY: 7 titles, most recent 2012; won 3 of the first 7 Lanierland's (1963, 1965-66)
COACH'S CORNER: Tyler Sanders: "Right now we are just focused on getting better every day. We have a lot of new faces playing a lot of minutes. As far as Lanierland goes, we will go into it like any other game: focus on playing great defense, execute on offense, just play the best that we can. Everything else will take care of itself. On a personal level, Lanierland is special for me because I have lived my whole life in Hall County and I understand and appreciate the tradition and prestige the tournament has. And, I have played in three and have been a part of 11 more (including this one) as either an assistant or head coach. It's special for the players because it is a chance for the kids to compete against players they are friends with and have grown up playing against."

WEST HALL BOYS
RECORD: 4-7
SEEDING: No. 4
FIRST GAME: vs. Lakeview Academy, 11 a.m.
2015 LANIERLAND FINISH: 4th
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. F Xzavier Reid, Sr. F Jacob Satterfield, Sr. G Ashun Favorite, Sr. G A.J. Favorite, Sr. T.J. Howard
TOURNAMENT HISTORY: 1 title (2008)
COACH'S CORNER: Bobby Pless: "We are playing 10 new players in key spots this year after graduating four starters. We have played a high level of competition in early part of the season. We are just focusing on becoming a better team with each game we play. Lanierland is a great tournament and the goal is to win it, and to win it you have to play quality basketball, have some things go your way, and handle all situations. If you don't win it, you want the games in the tournament to give you an edge for competing as region play approaches." 

GIRLS

CHESTATEE GIRLS
RECORD: 14-1
SEEDING: No. 6
FIRST GAME: vs. Gainesville, 12:30 p.m.
2015 LANIERLAND FINISH: 6th
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Jr. G Lindsay Caudell, Sr. G Dawndria Bell, Sr. SF Brooklyn Popham, Jr. G Peri Sattersfield, Sr. G Eramiss Hernandez
TOURNAMENT HISTORY: 1 title (2012)
COACH'S CORNER: Web Daniel: "To me it's the toughest tournament in the state every year. It means a lot to us and is a good measuring stick of where you are every year as a team and how you will compete against the top teams. We're playing well right now but there aren't any easy games in this tournament. We have a tough first round game and it should tell us a lot about how good we think we are."

EAST HALL GIRLS
RECORD: 6-5
SEEDING: No. 2
FIRST GAME: vs. West Hall, 3:30 p.m.
2015 LANIERLAND FINISH: Runner-up
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. G Kylah Mize, Jr. G Carly Winters, Jr. G Summer Lindsey 
TOURNAMENT HISTORY: 17 titles, most recent 2011; won the first two Lanierlands (1960-61); won 7 of 9 titles from 1977-1985
COACH'S CORNER: Justin Wheeler: "We have a young group and have played a pretty tough schedule. At the moment, we are playing good team basketball. I feel like we're getting better each week. It's always a fun tournament and I'm sure this year will be good as well. (It's) a unique experience and with it being around Christmas has its own mystique. Without question it's the most exciting time of the year for our players and coaches. Everyone in the county is at one venue and players get to face their rivals, friends, and even family members in some situations. It's special."

FLOWERY BRANCH GIRLS
RECORD: 9-2, ranked No. 2 in Class AAAAA
SEEDING: No. 1 
FIRST GAME: vs. Johnson, 6:30 p.m.
2015 LANIERLAND FINISH: Champion
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. P Julianne Sutton, Jr. G Taniyah Worth, Jr. PG Lexie Sengkhammee, Sr. G Queen Scott, So. Caroline Wysocki
TOURNAMENT HISTORY: 2 titles (2003, 2015)
COACH'S CORNER: Courtney Newton-Gonzalez: "We had the week off before Lanierland and enjoyed getting back to practice and working on some of the things we need to do looking forward. We are excited about this year's tournament and look forward to the great competition. Lanierland means a lot and means even more to win it for your school and community. As a coach it is great to coach in an environment so passionate about basketball. We're not approcahing anything different just because we won last year. We approach every game the same and are looking to get better and play the best ball that we can."

GAINESVILLE GIRLS
RECORD: 7-2
SEEDING: No. 3
FIRST GAME: vs. Chestatee, 12:30 p.m.
2015 LANIERLAND FINISH: 3rd
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. G Taylor Hawks, So. Tija Blackwell, Sr. F Sydney Payne, Sr. F Tangi Miller, So. G/PG Tia Shelton
TOURNAMENT HISTORY: 11 titles, most recent in 2014; won 4 straight from 1992-95
COACH'S CORNER: Brenda Hill-Gilmore: "Right now, we are a team trying to find it's identity and consistency. As far as Lanierland, we can't overlook anyone. We have to (face) a very good and well-coached Chestatee team first. I feel that if we come out and play Gainesville basketball: play smart, defend well, and knock down our shots, I like our chance of playing for the championship."

JOHNSON GIRLS
RECORD: 0-12
SEEDING: No. 8
FIRST GAME: vs. Flowery Branch, 6:30 p.m.
2015 LANIERLAND FINISH: 8th
PLAYERS TO WATCH: So. PG Chelsea Reece, Sr. W Khadijah Lewis, Fr. G Tori Smith, Fr. F Amy Berry, Fr. P Tytiana Teasley
TOURNAMENT HISTORY: 5 titles as Johnson, most recent 2004; won back-to-back titles as South Hall in 1966-67
COACH'S CORNER: Tiffany Kirkland: "We are young and very inexperienced [8 of the 14 on the roster are freshmen or sophomores], but getting better every day. My kids play hard and I couldn't ask for a better group of young ladies to coach."

LAKEVIEW ACADEMY GIRLS
RECORD: 10-2, ranked No. 4 in Class A Private
SEEDING: No. 5
FIRST GAME: vs. North Hall, 9:30 a.m.
2015 LANIERLAND FINISH: 5th
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. G Hannah Grogan, Sr. Christian Copeland, Sr. P Ryann Moody
TOURNAMENT HISTORY: No titles
COACH'S CORNER: John Carrick: "Our team is playing close to its potential right now, and we're really looking forward to this higher level of competition. Hopefully we can be competitive (in a tough field). Our kids love playing in this tournament every year. I think it is an honor to play in the longest running tournament in the state of Georgia."

NORTH HALL GIRLS
RECORD: 7-6
SEEDING: No. 4
FIRST GAME: vs. Lakeview Academy, 9:30 a.m.
2015 LANIERLAND FINISH: 4th
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. PG Tatum McQuillen, Sr. G Sadie Cleveland, Sr. G Taylor Anne Kelley
TOURNAMENT HISTORY: 13 titles, most recent 2009, second-most to East Hall; won 4 of 5 from 1986-90 and 8 of 16 from 1975-90
COACH'S CORNER: Kristi House: "Our team is excited to get it started. The Lanierland tournament is a truly special tournament."

WEST HALL GIRLS
RECORD: 8-3
SEEDING: No. 7
FIRST GAME: vs. East Hall, 3:30 p.m.
2015 LANIERLAND FINISH: 7th
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. G Macy Passmore, Jr. G Anna Mckendree, Sr. F Megan English, Jr. G Avery Prather
TOURNAMENT HISTORY: 4 titles, most recent in 2000; all 4 titles came in a 4-year stetch from 1997-2000
COACH'S CORNER: Bryan Richerson: "We are playing pretty good right now. Our defense has been really good and we're playing a tough non-conference schedule, so hopefully that will pay off for us...and get us warmed up for Lanierland, which is always highly-contested. We look forward to Lanierland every year with the great history of the tournament and the great competition you get to play. Hopefully we will have a good showing this year."

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