To Harlem High Principal Alan Griffin, who coached the Bulldogs girls basketball team to a state playoff berth in 2000, the reason for Harlem's recent success was leadership.
The Bulldogs were armed with Ebony Wells and Nicole Wells last season, but needed a floor general.
As Griffin this year watched the Bulldogs roll through the regular season and to its first state playoff win, he saw point guard Chancellor Martin as the reason.
The Columbia County News-Times Girls Basketball Player of the Year was a transplant, having played for Glenn Hills High last season. She arrived in Harlem and immediately took control.
"She fit in right off," Harlem coach Amy Slagle said. "She's very likeable; always has a smile on her face."
Martin's play didn't elicit many smiles from opposing backcourts.
She was a fixture at the top of Harlem's 1-3-1 zone and harassed opposing guards, averaging six steals per game.
Martin would wait in the passing lanes and use her long arms to slap errant passes toward the other end.
"A lot of guards are aggravated," Martin said during the season. "They're dribbling and they'll be like, 'Oh, I'm just going to go past her,' because of my height. By the time they pass the ball, it's a steal."
Martin could score quickly on the other end, but more importantly, she freed up the ball-handling responsibilities and distributed the ball to the Wells sisters.
The result was monumental. The Bulldogs didn't win the region tournament title, but that they contended was a leap forward from years past.
Harlem was the county's top girls program. Martin's teammates, Ebony and Nicole, were probably her two closest Player of the Year competitors.
Nicole, without having to worry about ball handling much of the time, was free to work open behind the 3-point line. She made 46 percent of her long-range attempts and also grabbed eight rebounds per game. The 6-foot-3 Ebony overpowered smaller teams in the post and was a fixture at the 3-point line.
With Martin and Nicole graduating and Ebony and Slagle headed to Grovetown, the Harlem girls program will have a different look next season.
But Griffin and others who witnessed the Bulldogs' 2009 season will remember the year it all came together.
'The Columbia County News-Times' All County Girls Basketball Team
Player of the Year: Chancellor Martin, senior, Harlem
Coach of the Year: Keith Walton, Augusta Christian
- Chancellor Martin, senior, Harlem
The Bulldogs point guard was the Co-Region 3-AAAA Player of the Year and helped lead Harlem to its best season ever.
- Nicole Wells, senior, Harlem
The All-Region pick averaged 14 points and eight rebounds per game. She made 46 percent from long range.
- Ebony Wells, sophomore, Harlem
Opposing teams had no match for the Bulldogs 6-foot-3 post player. Wells averaged 16 points, 8.5 rebounds and almost two blocks per game.
- Ayanna Fairbanks, senior, Greenbrier
The Wolfpack's scoring leader also grabbed 7.6 rebounds per game and was a first-team selection from Region 2-AAAAA.
- Kaila Hunt, junior, Greenbrier
The Wolfpack's defensive stopper smothered Butler standout Ashley Watts when the teams met this season. She averaged three steals and four assists per game.
- Elizabeth Alewine, junior, Augusta Christian
She came back from a knee injury in 2008 to help lead the Lions to a region title. Alewine averaged 20 points per game in region play.
- Tishal Turknett, sophomore, Lakeside
She gave a young Lakeside team the anchor it needed. She averaged 11.8 points per game and shot 71 percent from the free throw line.
- Carolyn Hennecken, sophomore, Lakeside
The point guard was the Panthers floor leader. She averaged 10.5 points and shot 41 percent from the field.
- Dorian Freeman, senior, Greenbrier
The Wolfpack senior almost averaged a double-double.
- DeeDee DeWalt, senior, Evans
The senior helped bring together a Knights team high on experience, but with players that hadn't played together before.
Kathleen Early, senior, Lakeside
Emily Shafer, junior, Augusta Prep
Sarah Sussman, sophomore, Augusta Prep
Chade Martin, junior, Harlem
Amaura Brandt, freshman, Augusta Christian
Lindsey Banks, junior, Augusta Christian
Altelecia Anderson, senior, Evans
Felina Barnes, senior, Evans
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