Last year's high-school basketball season proved one thing, at least where Columbia County's prep squads are concerned.
The girls' games aren't just a warmup for the boys' matchups anymore.
Though there was no dunking involved, the girls put on a show during the 2002-03 campaign, with half the teams reaching double-digit win totals.
The Lakeside Lady Panthers knocked off state power Hephzibah High School, and although Lakeside fell one win short of earning a first-ever berth in the Class AAAA playoffs, the squad had a season filled with excitement.
Augusta Prep's girls, meanwhile, did advance to the state playoffs, where the Lady Cavaliers won their first-ever Georgia Independent School Association state playoff game.
All of Columbia County's teams compete in challenging regions, but the girls won't back down, and they're ready to fight for wins this season.
The battle for respect, meanwhile, may have already been won.
The 2003-04 season has just begun, and here's a look at the county's teams and the players trying to lead them to glory.
Head coach: Tim Whitfield
Last season: 7-18
Projected starters: Bekah Gibbs (5-4), junior point guard; Meredith Weare (5-7), senior wing; Kim Millward (5-6), junior wing; Lauren Middleton (6-0), freshman forward; Ashley Brodhecker (6-0), senior center.
Other key players: Tyneshia Butler; Sherrell Parks; Jessica Gray; Marquita Grimes.
Season outlook: Coach Whitfield has a good group of freshmen and sophomores, led by Butler and Middleton, but the key for the Lady Knights this season will be the play of Gibbs and Brodhecker. Evans plays in a very difficult region, but the Lady Knights should be competitive and surprise some opponents.
Head coach: Garrett Black
Last season: 11-15
Projected starters: Michelle Swiec (5-5), freshman point guard; Kiley Moranski (5-4), senior guard; Alisha Simmons (5-7), junior guard/forward; Melissa Lewis (5-10), sophomore forward; Brittany Leverett (5-8), sophomore forward/center; Kelsey Sharon (5-10), freshman center. Note: Leverett and Sharon are battling for the fifth starting spot, and both should see plenty of playing time.
Other key players: Amanda Glover; Tiffany Blackburn; Kristi Nichols.
Season outlook: After one year coaching the Greenbrier boys, Garrett Black returns to lead the Lady Wolfpack. This squad will be young, but Black has some talent to work with. Swiec and Sharon helped Greenbrier Middle School post a 14-0 record last season, and are expected to contribute right away at the Brierpatch. Throw in Blackburn, another strong freshman, and the future looks extremely bright. Moranski will be relied on for leadership, and while she is a tough defender, she will need to score for the Lady Pack to reach their potential.
Head coach: Melissa Chase
Last season: 2-21
Projected starters: Beyra Ortega, sophomore guard; Tamika Tanksley, freshman guard; Sharday Taylor, senior forward; Jazmine Quintine, senior forward; the fifth slot if up for grabs.
Other key players: Kelley Hamilton; Christina Alfred; Christa Pouler; Whitney Guinn; Chantel Knight.
Season outlook: The Lady Bulldogs struggled mightily last season, and managed only two wins. Taylor is a very nice player, but of the other nine team members, six are freshmen and sophomores. It will likely be another long season for the Lady Dogs.
Head coach: Keith Walton
Last season: 9-13
Projected starters: Jordan Little (5-6), sophomore point guard; Shanice Broadwater (5-5), sophomore guard; Brittany Little (5-5) senior forward; Virginia Wright (5-9), senior forward; Sarah Beth McKinney (5-10) sophomore center.
Other key players: Lynnlee Satcher; Eve Machovec; Staci Airaghi; Jacklynn Fields; Larrie Reece.
Season outlook: Just like last season, the Lady Lions are young, but they are athletic, especially at guard. Brittany Little and Broadwater are solid all-around performers. Those two, alone with Wright, will have to be leaders for AC.
Head coach: Kevin Furtado
Last season: 15-8
Projected starters: Abby Alexander (5-4), guard; Monica Ploetoke (5-4), guard; Caroline Hull (5-5), forward; Katelyn Gibbs (5-6), forward; Mary Hannah Lynn (5-7), center.
Other key players: Callie Sadler; Mary Beth Horton.
Season outlook: With several key players returning from last year's team - which won a state playoff game for the first time in team history - Coach Furtado has to be very optimistic about the 2003-04 campaign. Alexander gets a lot of attention for her play at guard, but this team is built on balance. It won't be easy, but a region championship isn't out of the question for the Lady Cavaliers.
Head coach: Drew Shelton
Last season: 19-7
Projected starters: Jamie Lake (5-8), senior guard; Ansley Evans (5-7), senior forward; Kim Leeds (5-5), senior guard; Meghan Lloyd (6-1) junior center; Jade Samuel (5-6), senior forward.
Other key players: Brittany Barden, M.J. Trahan; Tina Campbell; Anna Stephens; Dana Tyler.
Season outlook: Lakeside posted the most wins in team history last season, and that will be hard to match. Then again, Lakeside may exceed expectations under the coaching trio of Shelton, Scott Resseguie and Frank Fidler. For that to happen, the squad will have to adapt to the graduation of Toya Coard, a four-year starter and all-time leading scorer for the Lady Panthers. Lake and Leeds will guide the transition with their defense, while Evans will have to carry some of the offensive load. Keep an eye on Samuel, who will do a little bit of everything for Lakeside.
Preseason All-County team
Jamie Lake, Lakeside: the senior can score and play defense. What more do you need? How about a competitive spirit, which is Lake's greatest asset.
Kim Leeds, Lakeside: Leeds sparks the fast-break with steals in the frontcourt, and pours in points as a result.
Michelle Swiec, Greenbrier: In my opinion, Swiec will be the top point guard in the county this season.
Lauren Middleton, Evans: like Swiec, Middleton is another freshman on the first team - and she should live up to that billing when all is said and done.
Sharday Taylor, Harlem: Taylor is athletic enough to be a an inside force for the Lady Dogs.
Second team: Augusta Prep - Abby Alexander; Evans - Bekah Gibbs and Ashley Brodhecker; Greenbrier - Kiley Moranski; Augusta Christian - Virginia Wright.
Honorable mention: Greenbrier - Melissa Scott, Brittany Leverett and Kelsey Sheron; Augusta Prep - Mary Hannah Lynn and Caroline Hull; Augusta Christian - Brittany Little, Jordan Little and Shanice Broadwater; Lakeside - Ansley Evans and Jade Samuel.
Preseason Player of the Year
Jamie Lake, Lakeside
Lake is solid in all phases of the game, but she gets my nod for player of the year for something that's not measured by statistics - she's going to hustle from the opening tip to the final buzzer. That kind of desire, along with plenty of ability, give Lake the total package. The senior guard should be the main catalyst on the court this season in Columbia County.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.