The state’s longest-running holiday tournament is set to begin on Wednesday at Cherokee Bluff High School.
The three-day tournament begins at the Bluff, with Day 2 at Flowery Branch and Day 3 at Chestatee High School.
The fourth-seeded Flowery Branch girls will battle No. 5 Cherokee Bluff at 9 a.m. to tip off the 63rd edition of the Lanierland Tournament. You can hear all the action live on 94.5 FM The Lake and streaming on accesswdun.com.
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The opening matchup is very intriguing. Flowery Branch has one of the best outside threats in the county with Bella Brick. Cherokee Bluff has won nine straight games and is playing well coming into the tournament. The Lady Bears (9-1) have been led by freshman Claire Carlson, who’s averaging 12.1 points per game, and Mia Williams, averaging a double-double with 14.8 ppg and 10 rebounds per game.
Meanwhile, the top-seeded North Hall girls seek their second-straight Lanierland title and open against No. 9 seed West Hall. The Lady Trojans (7-3) have won the last four of six games and boast one of the top outside bombers in the tournament with Kristina Peach (16 ppg). They'll also get strong play from guards Athena Vachtsevanos (11.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg), Rylee Thompson (4.7 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.3 apg, 2.2 spg), Amelia Shoemaker (4.1 ppg, 2.8 rpg), Carly Bowen (3.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.6 stg), and post players Genesis Satterfield (5.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg) and Sarah Davidson (3.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg).
After missing last year's tournament, the Lady Spartans (2-9) beat Johnson to return to the field in 2022. West Hall is young and with a new coach but is showing progress this season. They snapped a 49-game losing streak with a win over Cristo Rey earlier this year, and the two wins are already more than they had in the last two seasons combined. They'll count on freshman guards Summer Orlick (8.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.2 spg) and Yatsar Matos (6.2 ppg, 3.0 rpg) and sophomore guard Cayla Radich (3.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg) to lead the team.
The Chestatee girls, who come in as the No. 7 seed, have been tabbed as a tournament favorite. After last season’s finish, the Lady War Eagles (8-3) come into the tournament with a chip on their shoulders and one of the best hybrid players in the tournament in Riley Black. Black is averaging 22.4 ppg and 11.3 rpg. They’ll get the No. 2 seed, Lakeview.
When Lakeview Academy (4-6) thought it was getting healthy, playing most of the schedule, so far, without guard Dynesty Putman, forward Ashlyn Henderson is now out with an injury. Good news, however, for the Lady Lions, leading scorer Putman returned a couple of weeks ago. With the addition of Putman back in the rotation, along with guard Sydney Corbin and power forward Taliah Gaither, the Lady Lions will not be an easy out.
No. 3 seed Gainesville comes in as a surprise, winning eight straight games to open the season 8-0. The Lady Red Elephants have solid guard play with KeKe Jones, Caloni Young, Keidra Young and Zaria Williams. Gainesville gets No. 6 seed East Hall.
East Hall (2-9) has struggled to find offense, losing nine of its first 11 games. The Lady Vikings will look to guards Maleah Harrison and Callie Dale to help them advance in the winner's bracket, but they'll have to score to keep up with Gainesville.
On the boys' side, there may not be any two hotter teams than Flowery Branch and Chestatee.
The seventh-seeded Falcons are 9-1 and boast a dominant inside game with bigs, Tyleek Worth (14 ppg, 11 rpg) and Fe Honors (13 ppg, 7 rpg). Guards Jeremiah Ware (12 ppg, 3 spg) and Jayden Gudz (10 ppg, 3 apg) give the Falcons an outside threat. They’ll get No. 2 seed Gainesville in the first round.
Gainesville (3-5) comes into the tournament with only three wins, but don’t count out the 23-time Lanerland champs. The Red Elephants have one of the best guard rotations in the tournament, led by Charlie Reisman and Cade Simmons. Reisman is averaging 20 ppg, and Simmons is scoring 15 ppg. Also, watch out for guard Dre Raven and forward Ellis Pitts; both were part of the football team’s championship game run and joined the team in mid-December.
No. 6 seed Chestatee (8-2) has won the last eight of nine games with a solid outside and inside game led by one of the best big men in the tournament with Colton Wilbanks and sharp-shooting guard Hugh Pruitt. Wilbanks averages 19 ppg and 11 rpg, while Pruitt is scoring 12. Also, watch out for Jarvis Weaver, Eli Parlier and Josh Bull – all three can score it from the perimeter. The War Eagles will get No. 3 seed Cherokee Bluff.
Cherokee Bluff (8-3) has been a pleasant surprise, coming into the tournament winning the last six out of seven games. Solid guard play has been the catalyst to the Bears’ success in the first half of the schedule. Carlos Marlow (15.4 ppg, 4 rpg) and Logan Holmes (13.7 ppg, 2.7 apg) have led the team in scoring, while Boston Kersh (12.2 ppg, 7.9 rpg) has become the rebound king for the Bears. He can score, too.
No. 9 West Hall, which had to play its way into the tournament, is the dark horse to win it all. With the tournament’s best shooter, Owen Jenkins (19.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.3 spg), and bigs Isiah Holder (11.8 ppg, 9.9 rpg) and Andrew Malin (9.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg), the Spartans (6-6) have the firepower to make a run to the finals. They’ll get the No. 1 seed, East Hall.
The Vikings (1-9) have struggled, only winning one game in the first half of the schedule. They’ve been without last season’s leading scorer Cletus Agborsangaya most of the season. Joe Dix has looked to his underclassmen for scoring alongside senior guard Levi Holtzclaw (10 ppg, 4.3 assists per game, 1.3 spg). Freshman Jamarcus Harrison emerged as the star early on, averaging 17 ppg, 2.1 rpg and 1.5 steals per game. Freshman G/F Chasen Jones is averaging close to a double-double, scoring 9.1 ppg and pulling down 7.9 rpg, and sophomore forward Yair Furtado is scoring 7.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg and 2.5 blocks per game.
No. 5 seed North Hall (6-4) enters the tournament having won the last three games. With leading scorer Andrew Bales sidelined with injury, the Trojans have looked to one of the best guards in the tournament, Luke Sanders, for leadership. Sanders averages 9.7 ppg and leads the team in assists per game with 4.2. Big man Cole Hulsey leads the Trojans in scoring and rebounding with 11. 5 ppg and 6.5 rpg. Also helping the Trojans are guards Sam Gailey (9.4 ppg), Matthew Ray 8.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg), and forwards JT Chester (7.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.9 apg) and David Garrison (4.3 rpg). They’ll get No. 4 seed Lakeview Academy in the first round.
Lakeview (4-6) is having a youth movement off Lakeview Drive this season, led by a trio of underclassmen. With the youthful roster, there have been growing pains and tough losses in a tough schedule. The Lions have lost four games by an average of six points but come into the tournament winning the last three of four games. Sophomores Jack Collins (14.4 ppg, 6 rpg, 5 apg), Justyce Sadler (13.6 ppg, 9 rpg) and Tayden Ware (13 ppg, 8 rpg, 3apg) have led the Lions in scoring this season. Liam Weidner has added solid minutes as well.
OPENING ROUND SCHEDULE, Wednesday, Dec. 28
9 a.m -- #4 Flowery Branch vs. #5 Cherokee Bluff (Girls)
10:30 a.m. -- #4 Lakeview vs. #5 North Hall (Boys)
12 p.m. -- #3 Gainesville vs. #6 East Hall (Girls)
1:30 p.m. -- #3 Cherokee Bluff vs. #6 Chestatee (Boys)
3 p.m. -- #7 Chestatee vs. #2 Lakeview (Girls)
4:30 p.m. -- #7 Flowery Branch vs.#2 Gainesville (Boys)
6 p.m. -- #1 North Hall vs. #9 West Hall (Girls)
7:30 p.m. -- #1 East Hall vs. #8 West Hall (Boys)