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Friday February 3rd, 2023 1:42AM

2022-23 Girls basketball preview: Can Lady Indians repeat?

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter
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With the new reclassification, teams have moved up, down, and all around the Georgia High School Association for the 2022-23 school year. 

While most of the changes were designed to try and build better competitive balance on the football field, it has created some supremely interesting basketball classifications and regions on the girls side, especially in the Northeast Georgia area.

The Lumpkin County girls, coming off their first-ever state title, will be joined in Class 3A by Hebron Christian, who was the state runner-up last season in the always-difficult but now defunct Class A Private. The Lady Indians, who return all but one from their championship team, will be in Region 7-3A once again, while the Lady Lions joined Region 8-3A, and the two regions will meet in the first round of the state playoffs.

Lumpkin County will be joined in 7-3A with perennial power Wesleyan and Pickens, a Class 4A Final 4 team last year. Throw in a solid White County team and a good Dawson County group, and that will be a war every Tuesday and Friday.

Region 8-A Division 1 is in much the same situation.

Class A was split into a larger and a smaller division with Elbert County, last season’s Class 2A state champ, and Rabun County, the state runner-up in Class 2A, both moving down to Region 8-A D1, which already had semifinalist Commerce, and which also now includes Tallulah Falls, a quarterfinalist from last season. That will be one heck of a dogfight every week as well.

In the new Region 8-2A, five of the six teams made the playoffs last season, with Banks County, Union County, and Fellowship Christia all advancing to the second round of the various playoffs. East Jackson won a difficult Region 8-3A last season. More than one good team will not make it out of the region playoffs for sure.

Buford has moved up to Class 7A but may actually find the going a bit easier than the last two seasons in a brutal Class 6A, although Dacula, who knocked off the Lady Wolves for the Region 8-6A title, also moved up with them. The Lady Wolves do return one of the state’s most dynamic players in Ava Grace Watson, and a slew of other key returnees in what should be a balanced Region 8-7A.

North Forsyth and Gainesville both moved out of Region 6-7A and down into Region 8-6A, which has just two other teams -- Habersham Central and Jackson County (5A) -- that made the playoffs out of the new seven-team configuration.

Jefferson, an Elite 8 team the last two seasons in Class 4A, and Flowery Branch, a 2020 quarterfinalist, both moved up to Region 8-5A, which has another Elite 8 team from last season in Loganville. It also has perennial playoff team Winder-Barrow. This should be a fun region as well.

Lakeview Academy moved out of the GHSA and into the Georgia Independent Athletic Association (GIAA).

The new changes will certainly give fans some new teams to watch, and it could create one of the most interesting seasons in recent memory.

(CHECK OUT THE BOYS BASKETBALL PREVIEW HERE)

Below are our season previews for our 25 area girls programs as the season gets ready to get underway this week around state:


BANKS COUNTY LADY LEOPARDS
-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Steven Shedd, 7th season
-- REGION: 8-2A
-- 2021-22 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 10-18, Class 2A Sweet 16
-- RETURNING STARTERS: Kamryn Grier (16.0 ppg 12.0 rpg), Addison Hoard (11 ppg, 3 apg, 3 spg), Madison Adams (4 ppg, 2 apg), Carley Segars (9 ppg, 6 rpg)
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Ryleigh Murphy (2 ppg), Reese Murphy (3 ppg, 3 rpg)
-- STRENGTHS: The Lady Leopards, who were in somewhat of a rebuilding mode and battling several key injuries last season, will have a solid mix of size and balance to go with experienced depth coming back.
-- QUESTIONS: Staying healthy. The Lady Leopards have battled several key losses to key players each of the last couple of years.
-- KEY NON-REGION GAMES: They will have a difficult non-region schedule with the likes of former region foe and Class 2A state runner-up  Rabun County, White County, and North Hall.
-- FAVORITE(S) TO WIN REGION: “I think we have a good chance to compete for the region. We have some really talented teams in our region that are well coached and will be a real challenge for us.” -- Shedd


BUFORD LADY WOLVES
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Gene Durden, 18th season (455-77)
-- REGION: 8-7A
-- 2021-22 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 23-5, Region 8-6A runners up, Class 6A Sweet Sixteen
-- RETURNING STARTERS: Jr. W Betty Nguyen (5.6 ppg, 2 apg, 33% 3-pt), Sr. W Taylor Romano (10.1 ppg, 34% 3-pt), Jr. PG Ava Grace Watson (8-6A All-Region, Class 6A All-State, 18.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.8 apg, 38% 3-pt)
-- RETURNING PLAYERS: Sr. W Kirby Wallis (DNP last year due to injury), Jr. W Alyssa Green, Sr. P Corin Killian, Jr. W Mia Luckey,
So. P Izzy Rettiger; Key Newcomers: Fr. W Lydia Ledford
-- STRENGTHS: Depth is almost always a strength for the Lady Wolves, and they return several key players from last year’s young group, including the dynamic Watson. They should be strong defensively again, and the return of Wallis should help the offense.
-- QUESTIONS: A lack of size hurt them at times last season, and they won’t have anyone over 6-feet once again.
-- KEY NON-REGION GAMES: As always, they will play a very challenging non-region slate that includes semifinalist Holy Innocents, perennial power Wesleyan, and Elite 8 teams St Francis (A Private) and Carver-Columbus (4A).
-- FAVORITE(S) TO WIN REGION: Durden did not elaborate on the new-look 8-7A, but Dacula beat Buford to win 8-6A last season, and only Collins Hill made it into the 2nd round from teams that make up the region this season. The Lady Wolves should be able to challenge for the region title.


CHEROKEE BLUFF LADY BEARS
-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Lindsay Justice, 5th season
-- REGION: 8-4A
-- 2021-22 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 11-16
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: Graduated 7 seniors, including 3 starters and leading scorer and 4-year starter Timber Gaither
-- RETURNING STARTERS: Jr. Kaitlin Cook (8.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 3.0 apg, 2.3 spg).
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Sr. Mia Williams, Sr. Ella Quirarte, Jr. Emma Reynolds, Jr. Carson DeMars, Fr. Claire Carlson, Fr. Audrey Graham, Fr. Mac Warren.
-- STRENGTHS: The Lady Bears will have some young, athletic talent that should develop into solid players.
-- QUESTIONS: How will their youth stack up against a veteran, talented, and uber-tough region? The Lady Bears graduated the bulk of their group from a year ago and have several key spots that they will have to find consistent play.
-- KEY NON-REGION GAMES: Lanierland will be the Lady Bears’ most challenging stretch until region play opens.
-- FAVORITE(S) TO WIN REGION: “It will be a very competitive region for the most part. It is hard to pick a favorite right now with so many talented teams and players in an 11-team region.” -- Justice


CHESTATEE LADY WAR EAGLES 
-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Sutton Shirley, 5th season
-- REGION: 8-4A
-- 2021-22 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 21-9, Region 8-4A runner-up, Class 4A Sweet Sixteen
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: Bowen Corley, Riley Allison
-- RETURNING STARTERS: Jr. Riley Black (19.8 ppg, 9.8 rpg), Jr. Sierra Yarbrough (4 rpg), So. Addison Boyd (8.5 ppg, 3 apg)
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: So. Caroline Bull (5.7 ppg, 2 spg), So. Payton Cable (4 ppg, 4 rpg)
-- STRENGTHS: The Lady War Eagles will have the ability to be very versatile with their starting lineup and will be able to go 9 or 10 deep off the bench.
-- QUESTIONS: Can they replace the leadership that Corley and Allison provided last season?
-- KEY NON-REGION GAMES: They have some very intriguing matchups with Sequoyah (Nov. 19th), defending Class 3A state champion Lumpkin County (Nov. 29), and Jefferson, a quarterfinalist last season on Dec. 2nd.
-- FAVORITE(S) TO WIN REGION: “There are 7 or 8 teams that will be competing for a playoff bid in this 11-team region. The depth of talented coaches in the region is incredible. I don’t think anyone can predict a clear-cut favorite for Region 8-4A.” -- Shirley


COMMERCE LADY TIGERS
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Brad Puckett, 9th season
-- REGION: 8-A, Division 1
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 16-15, Region 8-A Public runner-up, Class A Public Final 4
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: Graduated 5 seniors from a team that had back-to-back Final 4 appearances, including top 2 scorers. Carson Hobbs (leading scorer and rebounder from last year), G Lauren Massey (2nd-leading scorer), Kendall Peters, Grace Hobbs
-- RETURNING STARTERS: Malay Mitchell (8 ppg, 5 rpg), Raven Parks (5.5 ppg, 8 rpg), Jada Palumbo (4.5 ppg,  6.4 rpg)
-- RETURNING PLAYERS: Fr. Cami Thomason, Jr. G Chloe Dean (a 3-point threat), Jayah Vann, Jurney Vann
-- STRENGTHS: Despite the graduations, the Lady Tigers bring back a core group that is used to deep playoff runs. They have added several new faces that should fill in the holes left by graduation.
-- QUESTIONS: The point guard position will be their top priority heading into the season. But the Lady Tigers will be young in general, with no seniors and several freshmen who will have to play key roles.
-- KEY NON-REGION GAMES: They will play a tough non-region slate once again that includes Banks County and Franklin County, two games with East Hall, and Class 5A Flowery Branch.
-- FAVORITES TO WIN REGION: “The (Region 8-A D1) favorites would have to be (defending Class 2A state champion) Elbert County, who returns all five starters. You can never count out Rabun County (Class 2A state runner-up), though. Coach Dillard does an excellent job and is always in contention for championships.” -- Puckett


DAWSON COUNTY LADY TIGERS
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Will Anglin, 1st season (Dawson County boys assistant for 5 seasons)
-- REGION: 7-3A
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 17-11, 1st round Class 3A playoffs
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: Ella Siuta (Johnson University)
-- RETURNING STARTERS: Sr. G/F Kirklyn Porter 10.7 ppg, leading scorer last year), Jr. F Morgan Chester (7.9 ppg, 8.3 rpg), Jr. G Abby Slaton (8.9 ppg) 
-- RETURNING PLAYERS: Jr. G Anna Ayers, Jr. C Heather Burt, Jr. C Jaci Wilson, Jr. PG Kindra Coker, So. P Eva Bishop, Sr. F Calleigh Lamb
-- STRENGTHS: The Lady Tigers were young last season but return the bulk of the roster that saw significant action. They will have depth across the board and should be able to score in a variety of ways inside and out.
-- QUESTIONS: New coach Anglin will be looking to find their identity early on. Anglin is looking to see how they use the strength of the 7-3A schedule to prepare them for a better playoff run this season.
-- KEY NON-REGION GAMES: The Lady Tigers will open against Creekview and also will play a home-and-away series with last year’s 8-3A champion East Jackson, as well as Class 5A Flowery Branch.
-- FAVORITE(S) TO WIN REGION: “(I see defending state champ) Lumpkin and Wesleyan (as the teams to beat), but hopefully, we will surprise some people.” -- Anglin


EAST FORSYTH LADY BRONCOS
-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Mike Hedrick, 2nd season
-- REGION: 8-4A
-- 2021-22 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 20-9, 2nd round Class 3A playoffs
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: Being their first-ever season, the Lady Broncos had no seniors last season
-- RETURNING STARTERS: Sr. G Alison Hiddema (Class 3A All State, West Georgia-commit, 15 ppg, 10 rpg), Sr. PG Ella Holbrook (Region 7-3A All Region, Piedmont-commit, 13 ppg), Sr. P Adeline Rosebush
-- RETURNING PLAYERS: So. G Hailey Hiddema, So. G Addison Rouse, So. G Ayla Heard, Jr. G Nora Swafford, Sr. G Hannah Kermicle, Maddie Abercrombie
-- STRENGTHS: The Lady Broncos could not have asked for more in their inaugural season with a 7-3A runner-up finish to the eventual state champions and a 20-win campaign. And they return everyone. They should be able to continue to put pressure on teams with their tough defense and deep guard play on offense.
-- KEY NON-REGION GAMES: They will play a very challenging non-region schedule with North Carolina state champ Rabun Gap, Class 6A state runner-up Sequoyah, Class 3A state runner-up GAC, and perennial power Buford.
-- FAVORITES TO WIN REGION: Coach Hedrick did not want to address possible favorites, but the Lady Broncos are ranked 7th and Chestatee 8th in the Sandy Kyle preseason rankings.


EAST HALL LADY VIKINGS
-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Justin Wheeler, 10th season
-- REGION: Region 8-4A
-- 2021-22 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 11-13
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: Alexis Burce, Audrey Griffin
-- RETURNING STARTERS: Sr. G Maleah Harrison (7.8 ppg, 2.3 apg), Sr. G Callie Dale 13.4 ppg (20-21)
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: So. G Kaylana Curry, So. G Amari Burce, So. F/C Terriah Watkins
-- STRENGTHS: The Lady Vikings will be athletic and should be strong defensively.
-- QUESTIONS: Height. The Lady Vikings only have one true post player, so finding ways to match up with taller teams will be a concern.
-- KEY NON-REGION GAMES: The Lady Vikings will play a solid non-region slate that includes Banks County, Commerce, Flowery Branch, Stone Mountain, as well as the annual Lanierland Tournament.
-- FAVORITES TO WIN REGION: Wheeler said they are hoping to challenge for a playoff spot but stated that “everybody will be tough in this region.”


EAST JACKSON LADY EAGLES
-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Matt Allen 2nd season
-- REGION: 8-2A
-- 2021-22 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 23-4, Region 8-3A Champions, 1st round Class 3A playoffs
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: Haven Rollins (Spartanburg Methodist College)
-- RETURNING STARTERS: Sr. G Antonia Pittman (Class 3A All-State, Region 8-3A Player of the Year, 19 ppg, 5 rpg, 3 apg, 3 spg), Sr. G Destiny Rakestraw (Region 8-3A 1st Team, 12 ppg, 6 rpg, 2 apg, 2.5 spg),  Sr. G Yasmine Clark (6.5 ppg, 3 rpg, 3 spg), Sr. G Alani David (5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2 spg)
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Sr. F Annika Sorrow, Jr. G Madissyn David, Sr. F Elizabeth Gerber
-- STRENGTHS: The Lady Eagles return a slew of experience, led by Pittman, and are loaded at the guard spot.
-- QUESTIONS: The only real crack in the roster is height. They will need to get some production underneath from Sorrow and Gerber.
-- KEY NON-REGION GAMES: They play a very difficult non-region schedule highlighted by games with two reigning state champions in Lumpkin County (3A) and Lake Oconee Academy (A Public), 7A quarterfinalist Brookwood, and Chestatee.
-- FAVORITES TO WIN REGION: Coach Allen said the “region is wide open,” but the Lady Eagles may have the most experienced roster returning.


FLOWERY BRANCH LADY FALCONS
-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Courtney Newton, 9th Season
-- REGION: 8- 5A
-- 2021-22 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 7-14
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: Shaina Kriews, Alana Veiga
-- RETURNING STARTERS: Sr. G Bella Brick (13 ppg, 7 rpg, Georgia state 3-pt shooting champion), Jr. G Amiya Scott (4 ppg, 3 rpg), Jr. P Deniya Randolph (5 ppg, 7 rpg)
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: So. G Jess Tamplin (3 ppg, 2 rpg); Newcomers: Sr. P Kenya Periche, Sr. P Sophie Woolums, Fr. P Brannen Shiloh, Jr. G Jayla Gudz (Buford transfer), Jr. G Mackenzie White (West Hall transfer), Jr. G Kaitlin Cangiolosi (West Hall transfer)
-- STRENGTHS: The Lady Falcons bring much more depth into this season, especially at the guard position, and more size in the post, which should allow Newton the ability to play the style of defense that helped lead them to a state title game appearance in 2018.
-- QUESTIONS: They also have 8 newcomers to the roster, 5 of them upperclassmen, and finding minutes for all of them could be a challenge as they find their roles.
-- KEY NON-REGION GAMES: They have some challenging non-region games against Dawson County, Jackson County and East Hall, as well as the annual Lanierland Tournament.
-- FAVORITES TO WIN REGION: Newton said the region as a whole should be challenging and hopes that her Lady Falcons can be in the playoff and region title mix among some tough teams like Jefferson and Loganville, both Elite 8 teams from a year ago, as well as Cedar Shoals.


GAINESVILLE LADY RED ELEPHANTS
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Vanessa White, 1st season
-- REGION: 8-6A
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 8-16
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: Amaya Topps
-- RETURNING PLAYERS: Sr. Keke Jones (8 ppg, 2 apg), Sr. G/F Caloni Young (11 ppg, 7 rpg), Sr. G/F Keidra Young (12 ppg, 6 rpg), Sr. PG Zaria Williams (6 ppg, 3 apg), So. G Julia Payne, So. F Dreya Maddox, So. G/F Kinsleigh Teasley
-- STRENGTHS: Team chemistry and will look to push the ball on offense and press on defense whenever possible.
-- QUESTIONS: Rebounding and can they cut down on turnovers from a year ago?
-- KEY NON-REGION GAMES: Lee County, Mcintosh, Lanierland Tournament
-- FAVORITE(S) TO WIN REGION: The Gainesville staff felt that the region is balanced and that they could challenge for a playoff spot by season’s end.


HABERSHAM CENTRAL LADY RAIDERS
-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Bill Bradley, 6th season
-- REGION: 8-6A
-- 2021-22 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 18-10, Class 6A playoffs
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES:  Lost 6 seniors, including 4-year starter and All-Region 8-6A Taylor Wade
-- RETURNING STARTERS: Jr. PG Kyia Barrett (All-Region, 10.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 6.1 apg), Sr. P Sataria Cantrell (5.4 rpg), Sr. W Jazky Bantaum (2 ppg), Sr. P Gabriela Santiago (3.1 rpg)
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Sr. P McKenzie Chitwood, Fr. G Emyrie Combs
-- STRENGTHS: The Lady Raiders do return some experience and should be formidable in the post and should be able to handle pressure with several players with perimeter ball-handling skills.
-- QUESTIONS: With the graduation of six players and with several new additions, depth will be an issue, especially early on.
-- KEY NON-REGION GAMES: They will play White County, a playoff team from a year ago, and Stephens County.
-- FAVORITE(S) TO WIN REGION: “North Forsyth and Gainesville.” -- Bradley


JEFFERSON LADY DRAGONS
-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Greg Brown, 5th season
-- REGION: 8-5A
-- 2021-22 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 24-5, Region 8-4A champions, Class 4A Elite 8
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: Natalia Bolden, Deshona Gaither, Jyesha Butts, Ellie Kinlaw, Tylia Brown, Hailey Triaga, Kendall Bailey
-- RETURNING STARTERS: The Lady Dragons do not return any starters from last season.
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Delaney Dewitt, Anni Aldridge, Eve Knight, Skyler Brady, Emeri Billings, Audrey Johnson
-- STRENGTHS: Expect the Lady Dragons to still be athletic and competitive in a very tough region.
-- QUESTIONS: But the biggest issue will be youth and inexperience across the board as they replace 7 key players from last year’s group.
-- KEY NON-REGION GAMES: They will play a very difficult non-region slate that includes perennial powerhouses Buford, Class 2A state runner-up Rabun County (twice), Class 7A teams Lambert and Mill Creek, St. Pius, and the Jackson EMC Tournament.
-- FAVORITE(S) TO WIN REGION: “Loganville and Flowery Branch.” -- Brown


JOHNSON LADY KNIGHTS
-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Jared Hodge, 5th season
-- REGION: 8-4A
-- 2021-22 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 4-22
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: Sarah Johnson, Carleigh Odell, Emely Trejo, Ashley Mintz
-- RETURNING STARTERS: Sr. G Alana Young (4 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.7 apg, 2.1 spg)
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Jr. G Nataly Mota, Sr. G Catherine Antonio, Sr. P Ashley Martinez, Sr. P Kenisha Avila
-- STRENGTHS: The Lady Knights should be athletic and have some size underneath to go with their guards.
-- QUESTIONS: Youth, inexperience, and finding some offense. They graduated 4 starters and 75% of their offensive production from a year ago. Young is the only returnee that saw significant minutes, and they need to quickly find the right combinations in what should be a very difficult region.
-- KEY NON-REGION GAMES: Johnson opens the season on Nov. 29th against Loganville Christian at home. Perhaps their biggest non-region game will be on Dec. 3rd against arch-rival West Hall in the play-in game for Lanierland as they try to get back in the tournament for a second consecutive season.
-- FAVORITES TO WIN REGION: “Our new region is loaded on the girls side. It is going to be a grind with five or six teams that could possibly make deep runs. Right now, I would put East Forsyth and North Oconee at the top of our region, but Walnut Grove, Chestatee, and North Hall should be right there as well.” -- Hodge


LAKEVIEW ACADEMY LADY LIONS
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: John Carrick, 13th season
-- REGION: GIAA Region 4-3A
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 13-12 overall, Class 4A state tournament
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: Joelle Snyder, Sara Nivens
-- RETURNING PLAYERS: So. G Dynesty Putman (14 ppg, 5 rpg, 4 apg), Jr. P Ashlyn Henderson (9 ppg, 10 rpg), Sr. G Sidney Corbin (4 ppg, 2 rpg)
-- STRENGTHS: The Lady Lions will have a solid guard tandem in Putnam and Corbin and height underneath with Henderson. Carrick said they have a bench of more than a dozen, the most in many years for the program.
-- QUESTIONS: But with a big bench and a new look without long-time starters Snyder and Nivens, how long it takes the new pieces to jell and come together could be a key to their success.
-- KEY NON-REGION GAMES: With only six region games, they have a long non-region schedule. They could claim to be a de facto member of Region 8-2A, playing Union County and Rabun County twice each, Banks County once, as well as Fellowship Christian. They also will take on Class 6A teams Habersham Central and Jackson County as well as the annual Lanierland Tournament.
-- FAVORITE(S) TO WIN REGION: Carrick said George Walton may be the early front-runner in their new GIAA region but expects to challenge for the region title by season’s end.


LANIER CHRISTIAN LADY LIGHTNING
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Rhonda Whelchel, 2nd season
-- REGION: GAPPS 2-3A  
-- 2021-2022 record: 11-17, 1st round GAPPS playoffs
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: Ashley Avery, LCA's all-time leading rebounder (617) and all-time leading scorer (724)
-- RETURNING STARTERS: Sr. P Camille Hoffmann (7.5 ppg, 11.9 rpg, 1.4 spg, 34 blocks), So. G Ellie Roberts (4.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg), 8th P Adelyn Gough (2.0 ppg, 1.8 rpg)
-- RETURNING PLAYERS: So. P Lesah Hoffmann (8 ppg, 14 rpg, 3 spg), 
G Kaitlyn DeLozier (23 ppg, 11 rpg, 7 apg, 7 spg), Sr. PG Olivia Peloquin (transfer), So. Alexis Gerard, So Emily Bialk, Fr. Shae Tumlin, Fr. Kendyl Neal, 8th Faith Bolton, 8th Abigail Oakley
-- STRENGTHS: The Lady Lightning will be young, but nearly the entire roster returns with experience from last season. The addition of Peloquin at PG will be a boost to the offense and also help take some pressure off Hoffmann and DeLozier. They like to use their defense to generate offense, and a deeper, more experienced roster will give them plenty of options.
-- QUESTIONS: Who will step up to try and fill the void of replacing the program’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder? Youth could be a factor at times.
-- KEY NON-REGION GAMES: The Lady Lightning opened their season last week in a tournament and currently sit 0-3. Coach Whelchel said they will use every game to help them get ready for their region schedule.
-- FAVORITES TO WIN REGION: “We are expecting to be contenders for the region (title).” -- Whelchel


LUMPKIN COUNTY LADY INDIANS
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: David Dowse, 6th season
-- REGION: 7-3A
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 30-1, Class 3A state champion, Region 7-3A regular season and tournament champions
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: Ava Jones
-- RETURNING STARTERS: Sr. PG Lexi Pierce, Jr. G Ciera Brooks, Jr. G Averie Jones, Sr. F Mary Mullinax, Sr. P/F Kate Jackson
-- NEWCOMERS: Fr. G Maddie Lee
-- STRENGTHS: The Lady Indians return all but one player from their title team and will be considered among a group of three or four teams in 3A to win the state title. All five starters are versatile scorers and can rebound and play defense.
-- QUESTIONS: Only going 6 or 7 deep, they cannot afford any key injuries. They also will have a target on their back every game as they try to defend their title.
-- KEY NON-REGION GAMES: Fittingly, they will play one of the more challenging schedules in the area with higher-class teams Cherokee, Woodstock, Sequoyah, Northview, Chestatee, and Milton. They will open region play on the road against perennial power Wesleyan.
-- FAVORITE(S) TO WIN REGION: Dowse said he expects his experienced group to be an early-season favorite but also said with the additions of Wesleyan and Pickens and the expected improvement of White County and Dawson County, it will be a battle to repeat as region champions.


NORTH FORSYTH LADY RAIDERS
-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Brad Kudlas, 4th season
-- REGION: 8-6A
-- 2021-22 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 24-4, Region 6-7A champions 5th year in a row, Raider Classic Thanksgiving Tournament Champions, 2nd round Class 7A playoffs
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: Anna Gliatta, Haelim Adle, Ali Jones, Leah Hall, Maddie Erickson
-- RETURNING STARTERS: The Lady Raiders have no returning starters.
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Sr. F Erin Whalen (9.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 2.0 spg, Sr. G Meredith Franklin (4.9 ppg, 1.2 apg), Sr. G Kamryn Gardner (4.4 ppg), So. G/F London Weaver (5.8 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 1.4 spg)
-- STRENGTHS: Despite the key losses, the Lady Raiders will still possess plenty of versatility on the offensive end in their up-tempo style. They also should still have depth with several talented underclassmen.
-- QUESTIONS: However, building team chemistry and finding the right combinations with a new starting lineup will be a huge factor early in the season.
-- KEY NON-REGION GAMES: Once again, they will play a very challenging non-region slate with rival South Forsyth, ranked 4th in 7A, Buford, ranked 6th in 7A, and No. 9 GAC in Class 5A.
-- FAVORITES TO WIN REGION: Kudlas, however, was unsure who the early favorites in 8-6A are as both Dacula and Buford moved up, and the Lady Raiders and Gainesville both moved down. But the Lady Raiders have been tabbed by several region coaches as early front-runners for the region title.


NORTH HALL LADY TROJANS
-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Eric Herrick, 1st season
-- REGION: 8-4A
-- 2021-22 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 17-9, Lanierland Champions
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: Rylee McCall
-- RETURNING STARTERS: Sr. SG Kristina Peach (13 ppg,, 4.2 rpg, 1.8 apg, 2.2 spg), Sr. PG Rylee Thompson (6.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.0 apg, 2.0 spg), Sr. G/F Amelia Shoemaker (10.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.6 apg)
KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: So. G Athena Vachtsevanos, So. P Sarah Davidson. Sr. G McKayla Waldrop, Jr. G Braelyn McCall, Jr. G Carly Bowen. 
-- STRENGTHS: The Lady Trojans have nearly their entire roster back from last season and should be a great 3-point shooting team with Peach, who shot 47% last season, Thompson, Shoemaker, and Vachtsevanos. They will have plenty of experienced depth, with Vachtsevanos, Waldrop, McCall, and Bowen adding to a deep guard spot. Davidson is expected to have major contributions as well inside.
-- QUESTIONS: Herrick, who coached against his new group last season with Dawson County, said improving on the defensive end is their top priority.
-- KEY NON-REGION GAMES: Lanierland Tournament and two games against former region foe and rival White County.
-- FAVORITES TO WIN REGION: Herrick said they can compete for the region title but expects East Forsyth and Chestatee to also be among the favorites.


RABUN COUNTY LADY WILDCATS
-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: DeeDee Dillard, 17th season
-- REGION: 8-A Division 1
-- 2021-22 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 24-6, Region 8-2A champions, Class 2A state runner-up
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: Carley Haban, Gracie Deetz, Loren Stiles, Sophie Woodard, Sarah Kate Roberson
-- RETURNING STARTERS: Jr. PG Lucy Hood (9.8 ppg, 4.3 apg, 35% 3-pt FG)
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Jr. G Ellie Southards (DNP last year, ACL injury), Sr. P Mary Lovell (5 ppg, 5 rpg ), Sr. G Trea Blalock (4 ppg, 2 apg), Jr. G Mili Watts (4 ppg, 3 spg)
-- STRENGTHS: Despite key graduations, expect the Lady Wildcats to stay with their aggressive, fast-paced style and to also play tough defense. Hood and the return of Southards give them one of the best guard tandems in the area.
-- QUESTIONS: Replacing 7 seniors with experience will be the early challenge as they try to find leaders and quality minutes on the court.
-- KEY NON-REGION GAMES: They will play another tough non-region schedule that includes Jefferson, St. Pius, Franklin (NC), and Lakeview Academy.
-- FAVORITES TO WIN REGION: As state runners-up and dropping down a classification, it would be easy to consider them favorites in any region. But fellow 8-2A foe and defending state champion Elbert County also moved down and into the same region. “Elbert County would be the obvious favorite since they are returning their top 8 players, but it should be a competitive region top to bottom.” -- Dillard


TOWNS COUNTY LADY INDIANS
-- COACH - Shea Taylor, 2nd season
-- REGION: 8-A, Division II 
-- 2021-22 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 8-18, Class A Public playoffs
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: Team captains Payten Calvert and Emily Vargas
-- RETURNING STARTERS: Sr. G Sarah Shook (12 ppg, 4 rpg), Sr. G Tabitha Barnes (9 ppg), Jr. P Laura Mauldin (6.5 rpg)
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Kaleigh Beaver (6 ppg, 5 rpg), Emma Lallement (4 rpg), newcomer Brelan Sieveking
-- STRENGTHS: The Lady Indians return most everyone from a team that made the playoffs last season. They should be more experienced and should have depth off the bench.
-- KEY NON-REGION GAMES: They play a solid non-region slate with Union County, Copper Basin (TN) and Hiwassee Dam (NC), as well as the annual Battle of the States tournament.
-- FAVORITE(S) TO WIN REGION: “The favorite is (defending Class A Public state champion) Lake Oconee Academy.” -- Taylor


UNION COUNTY LADY PANTHERS
-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Brad Cochran, 1st season 
-- REGION: 8-2A
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 13-14 overall, 2nd round Class 2A playoffs
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: Graduated 5 seniors, including Ava Hunter (North Georgia)
-- RETURNING STARTERS: So. Ariel McCarter, Jr. F Lara Turner, Sr. Corrine Hill
-- RETURNING PLAYERS: Jr. G Kamryn Mull, Jr. P Morgan Warren, Sr. P Ivie Chapman
-- STRENGTHS: The Lady Panthers should be a strong defensive team.
-- QUESTIONS: Union County will be very young, with 11 freshmen and/or sophomores on the roster. They will have to find someone to replace the production of Ava Hunter (20 ppg, 10 rpg).
-- KEY NON-REGION GAMES: The Lady Panthers have an ambitious non-region slate with higher class teams Chattahoochee, Habersham Central and White County, and a home-and-home series with both North Hall and Lakeview Academy as well.
-- FAVORITE(S) TO WIN REGION: As a first-year coach, Cochran was not able to elaborate much on the region, but the Lady Panthers should be able to challenge for a playoff spot by season’s end.


WEST HALL LADY SPARTANS
-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Jacob Selman, 1st season
-- REGION: 7-3A
-- 2021-22 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 0-25
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: Macie Burrell
-- RETURNING STARTERS: Sr. P Lisa Ososkalo
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: So. PG Cayla Radich, So. G Kihanna Rich, So. Heidi Zuniga
-- STRENGTHS: They have several returning guards and Ososkalo inside as a core to build around.
-- QUESTIONS: There has been a lot of turnover as Selman takes over the program, and finding scorers and blending in new players in a tough region will be a priority. They are still in rebuilding mode with a very young roster.
-- KEY NON-REGION GAMES: Lanierland play-in game against arch-rival Johnson


WHITE COUNTY LADY WARRIORS
-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Jarvis Davenport, 7th season
-- REGION: 7-3A
-- 2021-22 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 13-12, 1st round Class 3A playoffs
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: Chesnee Freeman (Montreat College), Kinsey Dockery, Kendyl Cantrell
-- RETURNING STARTERS: Sr. Naomi Roberts (7 ppg, 4 rpg), Sr. P Claire Beckman (6 ppg, 5 reb), Sr. G Chandler Weaver (3 rpg, 2 spg, 2 apg), Sr. G/F Maci Shelnut (4.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg), Jr. G Aaliyah Anderson (4 ppg, 2 apg, 2 spg)
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Jr. G/F Zoe Burkett (5 ppg 2 reb), So. G/F Kylie Watkins (5 ppg 5 reb 2 stl), So. G Emma Lightsey (4 ppg 1.5 reb 1 stl), So. G Mya Yeh (3 ppg 2 stl 2 reb), Jr. P Aubrey Free, Jr. P Yvonne Minutello
-- STRENGTHS: Depth, versatility, and experience. The Lady Warriors return 10 players that started at times last season and that played two tough games with state champion Lumpkin County. They are now a year older. Several key players can play multiple positions giving Davenport a wealth of match-up possibilities.
-- QUESTIONS: Depth may also be their biggest challenge as Davenport tries to find minutes for a talented roster that is a year older and more experienced.
-- KEY NON-REGION GAMES: They have a scrimmage against defending Class 2A champion Elbert County and then open the season against Class A Private state runner-up Hebron Christian, as well as North Hall, Habersham County, Banks County and Union County
-- FAVORITES TO WIN REGION: “Until someone beats Lumpkin County, they are still the favorites. But we expect to be able to challenge for the title this year.” -- Davenport

--Key: Sr: senior, Jr: junior, So: sophomore, Fr: freshman, PG: point guard, G: guard, SG: shooting guard, W: wing, F: forward, PF: power forward, SF: small forward, P: post, C: center, PPG: points per game, RPG: rebounds per game, APG: assists per game, SPG: steals per game, FT: free throws.

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