High school basketball begins in Columbia County on Monday, as the Greenbrier and Harlem high school girls compete in the Lady Pack Tip-off Tournament at the Brierpatch.
The teams aren't wasting any time - Monday is the first day that the Georgia High School Association allows prep basketball teams to schedule a regular-season game.
The event features four squads. Harlem and Glascock County tangle Monday at 5 p.m., and Greenbrier takes on Aquinas at 6:30. Play concludes Saturday, with consolation (5 p.m.) and championship (6:30 p.m.) games.
Lady Wolfpack coach Garrett Black and Lady Dogs coach Kim Chambers decided to put the tournament together.
"Normally, in the past we'd open with region teams," Black said. "We put something together so we could play nonregion opponents, see a lot of different kids play and figure out what we want to do when we get into the heart of the schedule."
Chambers likes the early start because it puts a spotlight on the girls.
"I'm real excited about the tournament, because it's strictly for girls," he said. "We need some extra attention for girls' teams in Columbia County. This is something that's special for them."
During his inaugural campaign with Harlem last year, Chambers suffered through a winless season, as the young Lady Dogs averaged more turnovers (26) per game than points (25).
Now, with seven players returning, including leading scorer Laura Tam, guard Clare Hatcher and center Sharday Taylor, plus newcomers Jessica Riddick and Shannon Camp on board, Chambers said he expects a turnaround in 2001-02.
"I think we can win early," he said. "We're not focusing on a losing streak or last year's season. We were playing for the future, and the future is now."
The Lady Wolfpack was at the opposite end of the spectrum last year, posting a 13-14 record, the best in team history. Along the way, Greenbrier won the Columbia County Christmas Tournament for the first time.
Greenbrier has some rebuilding to do this season. Leading scorer Kellie Tiller graduated and is now on the Georgia Southern University basketball team. Guard Kelly Keller also graduated, three-point threat Amber Bryant moved to Texas and scrappy defender Kelli Fuzy is living in Korea.
Fuzy should return after Christmas break, but Laura Schmidt is gone for good - she is skipping hoops to concentrate on volleyball.
Seniors Christina Large, Erica Johnson and Lindsey Sutherland, along with junior Katie Sutherland, are expected to anchor the Lady Pack. Junior transfer student Catherine Banks should help at guard, while coach Black is relying on contributions from sophomores Lucy Wolfe and Kiley Moranski.
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