Youth is the key word in girls high school basketball this season in Columbia County.
Lakeside is the only squad with more than one senior making a major contribution. There are, however, many freshmen and sophomores who will be asked to make major contributions for their squads.
That's the bright side.The bad news is that Columbia County's teams play in very tough regions. In fact, Greenbrier and Lakeside are stuck in Region 3-AAAA, which is undoubtedly the best in the state in Class AAAA.
Still, competing well in the region is just one goal. Another is earning county bragging rights, and those are up for grabs.
Though there are some talented young players on the local rosters, in my opinion experience will prevail - that's why I expect Lakeside to be the top county team in 2002-03.
With that said, let's start our hoops preview from the top.
Head coach - Bill Richey; record last season - 11-14.
The Lady Panthers did lose four-year starter Nichole Bennett to graduation, but I think the Lady Panthers are still an improved team this season.
It all starts with senior guard Toya Coard, who is averaging 24 points per game in the early stages of the 2002-03 campaign. A lot of those points are a result of good defensive plays by her teammates, but Coard also is one of the county's best outside shooter.
Key players: Toya Coard (senior guard) can be a streaky shooter, but when she's on, watch out. Molly McFerran (senior forward) is a hustling player and a solid rebounder. Jamie Lake (junior guard) does a little of everything, but is a particularly good passer.
Outlook: Lakeside will have to play perfect basketball to finish in the top five in Region 3-AAAA, and only the top four teams earn state playoff berths. Glenn Hills, Hephzibah and Baldwin may be untouchable, but with a little luck, the Lady Panthers could vie for the fourth slot.
Head coach - Paul Greenway; record last season - 10-16.
Greenway takes over the coaching job from Garrett Black, who now leads the Greenbrier boys. Greenway inherits an intriguing team - the Lady Pack has only one senior, post player Katie Sutherland, but there are several good underclassmen.
The key for Greenbrier will be whether Sutherland can stay out of foul trouble and hit her free throws. Also, Greenway will rely heavily on guard Kiley Moranski.
Key players: Katie Sutherland (senior center) has the size and aggressiveness to dominate inside, but has to eliminate fouls. Kiley Moranski (junior guard) will do very well this season, because she's a smart player and always gives maximum effort. Alisha Simmons (sophomore forward) is a really good young player with a bright future. Amy Rigdon (junior guard) is not shy about shooting three-point shots, and why not? Rigdon connected on a school-record eight 3-pointers during a game last season.
Outlook: The Lady Pack has jumped to a 6-2 record, but the real test will come after the new year.
Head coach - Tim Whitfield; record last season - 6-19.
The Lady Knights are coming off a tough season, and the move to Region 7-AAAAA won't make things easier this year, but Coach Whitfield has several good young players. Point guard Bekah Gibbs, for instance, could have a breakout sophomore season.
Evans will have to get Ashley Brodhecker in the mix offensively. The junior center will have a strength advantage over most of her opponents.
Key players: Bekah Gibbs (sophomore guard) definitely is one of the best athletes in the county, and she's also a smart player, which is a must at the point-guard position. Anna Cheely (senior guard) will have to provide some scoring for Evans to be successful. Ashley Brodhecker (junior center) is a big presence inside, and she can be a major factor on the glass.
Outlook: For the Lady Knights, competing in Region 7-AAAAA will be a survival test, and victories will be hard to come by.
Head coach - Melissa Chase; record last season - 7-19.
With Coach Chase taking over, Kim Chambers can get some rest from coaching both Harlem basketball teams. Chase has some talent to work with, especially in freshman April Woodard - she's averaging 11 points per game so far this year.
The Lady Dogs start three freshmen and two juniors, so this year will be used to build experience for the future.
Key players: April Woodard (freshman guard) is the top freshman in Columbia County. Sharday Taylor (junior forward) is on a mission to lead the team's defense and rebounding efforts.
Outlook: After being depleted by graduation two seasons ago, the Lady Dogs suffered through a winless year. The team is starting to rebuild, and this season is another step along that road.
Head coach - Kevin Furtado; record last season - 9-15.
Coach Furtado has a capable squad, and the Lady Cavaliers will get even better in January when top scorer Rebecca Smith comes back from an early-season injury.
Also, point guard Abby Alexander is back to run the team after having an impressive freshman season last year.
Key players: Rebecca Smith (senior forward) is certainly the team's most proficient scorer, but is sideline with a broken clavicle. The quicker she returns, the better. Abby Alexander (sophomore guard) is a very smart player, and is solid in all facets of the game. Mary Hannah Lynn (sophomore center) has a job to work inside for the tough baskets and help out defensively. So far, she's fulfilled that role for Prep.
Outlook: The Lady Cavaliers are loaded with good athletes, and should have enough stamina in the fourth quarter to win some close games. Prep looks to be a program on the rise.
Head coach - Keith Walton; record last season - 8-16.
With last year's leading scorer, Melissa Wright, lost to graduation, and with former point guard Stephanie Byler transferring, first-year head coach Keith Walton will be guiding a young team. Junior Virginia Wright likely will pick up the scoring slack.
Key players: Virginia Wright (junior forward) has a nice shooting touch, and if she can draw some fouls, really can be accurate from the free throw line. Crystin Cromer (senior forward): is AC's most experienced player, and mat also be the most aggressive Lady Lion.
Outlook: In time, Coach Walton will be able to mold this group into a region-title contender. For now, the Lady Lions should compete for a state playoff berth.
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