FLOWERY BRANCH — After a somewhat brief pause, “young,” was all Flowery Branch girls basketball coach Courtney Newton-Gonzalez could muster for her initial description of her 2019-20 team.
Upon further review, however -- and after a more elongated pause than the first -- you could almost see the smile on Newton-Gonzalez’s face form through the phone.
“We have so many young players but we have so much talent as well,” she said. “What is interesting is that they are bringing in a whole new, and fun, dynamic to the program. It’s refreshing in the sense that there is a lot more of teaching the game and the system. It’s a whole new challenge and I’m loving it...so far.”
For fans that have followed the Lady Falcons, they know Newton-Gonzalez has led them to their best four-year run in program history with three semifinals and one state championship game appearance. But gone are guards Caroline Wysocki, Ashley Scott, and Ashley Woodroffe, who helped lead the Lady Falcons to another semifinal appearance in 2019, in Class 4A. Last season saw the first wave of that core -- Taniyah Worth and Lexi Sengkhemmee -- move on to the college ranks. Only one senior remains on the roster from that group and just two juniors, though both post-Ashlee Locke and point guard Morgan Aguilar were integral parts of last year’s state playoff team.
Now in her fifth season at her alma mater, Newton-Gonzalez finds herself in more of a reloading mode than when she first arrived to find a young roster dotted with nearly half-a-dozen next-level players. Five sophomores and three freshmen dominate the current roster but Newton-Gonzalez said they may be further along than her initial group in 2015-16.
Three of those freshmen -- Keidra Young, Caloni Young, Bella Brick -- are expected to take on significant minutes early on with Keidra Young and sophomore Shaina Kriews expected to be in the starting lineup. Sophomores Alana Veiga and Emilee Scott also should see plenty of action.
But Newton-Gonzalez and assistant coach Cierra Jackson are not anticipating many changes in their up-tempo style.
“Every year is different even if you have a lot of the same team returning,” Newton-Gonzalez said. “There’s always new kids coming in and others leaving. We will still play our aggressive pressure defense and push the ball on offense.”
And Newton-Gonzalez said based on preseason practices, her latest group could give her an element they haven’t been accustomed to in years past.
“The last few years we were very senior-driven and really didn’t go more than 6 or 7 deep in most games,” she said. “We feel right now we have 10 girls that every day, every game, could do something to win a game. I see 10 or 11 girls playing every game. That is a new dynamic for us so utilizing all of them will be a challenge.”
The Lady Falcons will tip off the 2019-20 season Tuesday on the road against Class 6A Apalachee. Their home-opener is scheduled for Nov. 19 against Class 3A-ranked Dawson County. They should also be considered an early favorite to repeat as Region 7-4A champions
If the early season practices are any indication, Newton-Gonzalez is already having a hard time containing her own excitement.
“These young girls are bringing so much energy to practices it’s hard not to share that with them,” Newton-Gonzalez said. “The practices are so competitive. They are wanting to learn and are asking a lot of the right questions because they are all battling for the same spots on the floor.
“We feel there is enough talent that if someone is having an off-night someone else is right down the bench that can pick them up. I think we have a chance to be pretty good this year but there is also a lot these girls still need to get better at and learn.
“But based on how they’ve come in from the beginning of camp and into the start of the season, I like where we’re headed. It should be a real fun year and we’re ready to get going.”