I must admit I was caught off guard last week while reviewing the Georgia High School Association state basketball rankings.
The Lakeside Lady Pantherschecked in at No. 5 in the Class AAAA poll.
I nearly got whiplash as I did a double-take to make sure my eyes weren't playing tricks on me.
It may sound like I'm putting down the program, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Actually, I'm extremely happy for the Lady Panthers and their coach, Bill Richey.
My surprise at the high ranking doesn't mean I'm completely clueless. I did expect Lakeside to have the top girls team in Columbia County this season, but top five in the state is another story.
First of all, Lakeside plays in the toughest Class AAAA region in the state. Defending state champion Glenn Hills, and final-four regular Hephzibah, are the top squads in Region 3-AAAA, so the remainder of the 2002-03 season will really test the Lady Panthers.
Still, to be ranked No. 5 in the state is a huge measure of respect.
Lakeside, which improved to 11-2 with a win Tuesday over region foe Thomson, is led by senior guard Toya Coard. She has been one of the top prep scorers in the CSRA, and is averaging more than 20 points per game.
Teammates Catherine Conaway (left) and Toya Coard hold the trophy Lakeside took home from the Christmas Tournament.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Coard has been a starter at Lakeside since her freshman year, and if she continues to improve, she has a good shot at being named to the All-Region team, which is no small feat in talent-laden 3-AAAA.
Despite Coard's ability, Lakeside is not a one-girl show.
Richey is receiving outstanding play from a host of Lady Panthers, including Molly McFerran. Her contributions at the post position are a big reason why the team is off to such a great start.
Also, Kim Leeds, Jamie Lake and Brittany Barden have really come on strong for Lakeside.
Are the Lady Panthers ready to challenge Glenn Hills and Hephzibah? Probably not, but a state playoff berth is a distinct possibility.
As best as I can recall, the last time a public school girls basketball team cracked the state rankings was when the Harlem Lady Bulldogs made the list during the 1999-2000 season.
So, for Lakeside to be No. 5 is a major story.
Hopefully, the Lady Panthers will keep posting wins and earn something more important than a ranking - a berth in the Class AAAA state playoffs.
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