Area Sports...

November 15, 2000


Tigers Hope To Give Warren County Eagles Reason To Scream
There's nothing like the home-field advantage in a big game, and that's what the Commerce Tigers will enjoy Friday night when they host the Warren County Screaming Eagles in the first round of the Class A football playoffs.
Commerce had wrapped up a home-field advantage for game one by knocking off Jefferson; it clinched home-field play for the rest of the playoffs (except the semifinals, which would be played in the Georgia Dome) by beating Buford last week.
The Tigers, 8-2, enter the playoffs ranked first in Class A in Georgia following last week's 18-14 victory over previously unbeaten Buford.
The Eagles, from Region 7A, have been screaming in defeat most of the year. They bring a dismal 2-8 record into the playoffs, courtesy of a system that sends four teams from each region to the playoffs. The Screaming Eagles beat only Social Circle and Aquinas.
But don't expect Tiger head coach Steve Savage to be complacent. You don't approach the playoffs without a certain amount of paranoia.
"They are extremely athletic and young," he stated. "They were right in the game with Lincoln County Friday night. It was 18-7 and Lincoln County faked a punt and took it on in." The final score was 34-7.
Savage knows that it doesn't pay to regard a playoff opponent lightly.
"If you lose, you're through. There won't be any more tomorrows," he points out. "You can't take anything lightly."
Kickoff is at 8:00. The admission fee, which is set by the Georgia High School Association, is $7.
Meanwhile, Jefferson will travel to Athens academy, Wesleyan will visit Lincoln County and Buford will host Georgia Military College in other playoff games.
The winner of Friday's game plays the winner of the 6A Trion-5A Heard County game.




Girls' and boys' basketball teams look to seniors to lead promising seasons
Talent, experience and leadership will all head up the Banks County Leopard and Lady Leopard basketball teams this year.
Combined, the two teams bring 12 seniors to the court. Senior experience coupled with the youthful aggressiveness of rising underclassman should mix for an effective season for both teams.
The Georgia High School Association's recent realignment put Banks County in a new region with several new faces.
Banks moves up to Region 8-AA South, joining East Hall, Greater Atlanta Christian, Apalachee and long-time rival Dawson County.
The North subregion will include old friends Union, Towns and Rabun counties as well as Riverside, White and Lumpkin counties.
Banks County's boys' and girls' teams will open their seasons a week early this year. The Leopards and Lady Leopards will get their first test in the Pepsi Tipoff Challenge beginning this Saturday and continuing Tuesday in Jackson County.
After that, the two teams will break until after Thanksgiving.
LADY LEOPARDS
The Lady Leopards will try to rebuild a potentially powerful team this year after going 11-10 with a first-round playoff loss last year.
"I've been accused of being overly optimistic, but I feel good about this year," Lady Leopard head coach Mike Gordon said. "We have a lot of potential talent. I've been well pleased so far with what I've seen."
Harvesting the team's "potential talent" will be a key for the Lady Leopards, as they look to replace several starters from last year's team.
Banks' girls' team lost five players to graduation, including top scorer Bree Whitlock.
But the team will be returning a plethora of senior talent this year, including four-year contributor Haley Crumley.
"Crumley, (Laura) Carlyle and (Regina) Veal all show a lot of leadership, character and drive," Gordon said. "They are good examples for the younger players. Our seniors bring good leadership to the team."
Banks County will also look to seniors Taffy Carruth, Laura Mitchell and Jessica Mullins to provide leadership for this year's team.
Gordon said he believes the strength of his team this year will come from the post position, more so than in previous years.
"I think we'll be strong inside," Gordon said. "We've got quickness at guard too."
As far as the region goes, Gordon looks to Towns County, GAC and Union County to be the team's toughest competitors. Last year, the Towns County girls' team fought their way into the state semifinals before being knocked out of the tournament.
The Lady Leopards will open their season this Saturday in the Jackson County Invitational. Banks County will face a quick Johnson team in their opening bout.
"We played Johnson this summer in camp," Gordon said. "They are quick all over and they'll hit threes on you."
After that, the Lady Leopards will embark on a two-game road trip before playing at home on Dec. 8.
LEOPARDS
The Banks County boys' basketball team will be stacked with senior talent this year. Starters Victor Bonds, Bray Maxwell and Mike Ivey will be back on the Leopards squad. All three helped the team to a 14-11 season last year, capturing the Region 8-A North runner-up title.
The Leopards lost Blakely Crumley and Justin Smith to graduation. Seniors Casey Murray and Chris Ivey will likely fill the departed graduates slots on the starting team.
Leopard head coach Mike Ruth said he will also look to seniors Steven Caudell and Ryan Loggins and juniors Will Gordon and Cody Whitlock to rotate in off the bench for the team.
"We've got eight or nine deep with a good rotation," Ruth said of this year's team.
Ruth expects to produce a Leopard a quicker team with more pressing this year.
"We're going to try to pick up the tempo and pace," he said. "We have a little more quickness than in the past. We may work with more three-quarter and half court trapping."
The Leopards will be competing a tough subregion this year. East Hall, a new face to Banks County, lost in the state Class AA championship game last year and returns all of its starting talent to the court. Ruth also said he looks for GAC to offer stiff competition.
"East Hall and GAC will be the teams to beat," he said. "Our side is loaded. No one can hardley compete with East Hall and GAC. Both teams will be tough to beat."
However, Ruth didn't put a win over either team out of the realm of possibility.
"We will have to play at the top of our game with no mistakes," he said. "Since they are on our side, if we go to region, the first night we won't have to face GAC or East Hall. We'll play the other side (north subregion). We only have to win one game to qualify for state."
Union County offers the biggest threat to the Leopards in the north subregion. The other teams likely will not be able to compete with the south.
"We feel we can compete with anyone on the other side," Ruth said. "Union County will be the team to beat. Four teams will go to state. After East Hall and GAC, that leaves two others in contention."
Banks County will open its season Saturday against Johnson in the Jackson County Invitational Tournament. Ruth said Johnson was a strong team with an effective press.
"They will press us," Ruth said. "They took some plays from the East Hall playbook. It will be a good test for us to see if we can handle the defensive pressure."
The Leopards will go into the tournament with a somewhat rusty squad. Three of Banks County's starters have only been practicing with the team since the end of football season last week.
"We only have five or six days to practice our main starters and those guys will be rusty," Ruth said. "Our younger juniors will have to step up in the tournament."
After the tourney, Banks County will travel away for one game before hosting Riverside Dec. 2.


Time for JHS rebuilding to pay off
"I'm so excited, I just can't wait until Saturday."
With those words, Jefferson guard Buzz Wehunt accurately reflected the thoughts of the entire Jefferson basketball program. For the past two seasons, the Dragons have enlisted the help of this year's tremendously athletic junior class in rebuilding both the girls' and boys' basketball teams.
Now it's time for the payoff, according to the Jefferson coaching staff.
"We're excited," said boys' coach Bolling DuBose. "This team has spent the last two seasons building for this moment, and it's getting ready to pay off, if we'll work for it." Girls' coach Kevin Jacobs echoed DuBose's thoughts.
"Before, we were doing the hunting," Jacobs said, referring to his Lady Dragons. "Now we're going to be the hunted. Everybody's going to be out to get us. It will be interesting to see how we accept the challenge."
That challenge begins Saturday in the Jefferson gymnasium, when the Dragons again host the Sonny's Smokin' Shootout. Other teams participating include Westside (SC), Holy Innocents, Providence, West Hall, Greater Atlanta Christian and Crescent (SC). Habersham Central's girls will also be on hand, as will the boys of Pace Academy.
The Lady Dragons get things rolling for Jefferson Saturday, when they tip off against Crescent. The boys will follow immediately after, also against Crescent.
"I don't know if we could make this tournament a whole lot better," DuBose said earlier this week. "There are going to be some great basketball games. This is a great way for us to start the season. We'll find out real quick just what we've got."
Fans who want to find out just what the Dragons have will be asked to pay $5 admission per entry to the event, which stretches over a week. Tournament passes are available for $15, allowing unlimited access to all the tournaments' games. DuBose indicated that Dragon Booster Club members should be aware that booster passes are not valid for tournament games.
BOYS HAVE MOST DEPTH EVER
Though the boys' team will be hampered for the first several weeks due to football commitments, DuBose said depth is not a problem.
"We've got seven legitimate varsity guys out already. I told the football guys that even if they lose Friday night [in the opening round of the state playoffs], they're not expected to be here Saturday. Of course, if they want to come and play, that's fine." If the Jefferson football team remains alive after Friday's game, GHSA rules will forbid any member of the football team from playing in the basketball tournament.
Ryan Gurley will get the call at point when the football season is through, and Pierre Martin will step in until then.
"I don't know that I've ever had a situation where we've had two point guards as good as these two," DuBose said. Fortunately for DuBose, the situation is much the same at every position on the court.
Buzz Wehunt, last season's scoring leader, returns at shooting guard, with Gainesville transfer Chris Kinsey backing him up.
"Chris is a real smart player," DuBose said. "He's great on defense, and he handles the ball really well."
D'Antonio Chandler will assume the third guard position, and Michael Newton will fill in after football season. James Harrison, who is ineligible until January, will also see some time at the spot.
In the paint, Jefferson will be much bigger physically than in past years. Tim Newton gets the call at the number five forward, with Andrew Chambers, Victor Tate and Nate Carson all seeing time on the court. Chambers, however, suffered a torn ACL during football season, and will likely not be available until January.
The number four slot poses the biggest challenge for the Dragons. Daniel Goza, who was killed in an automobile accident recently, was sure to be a major presence for Jefferson inside. DuBose will call upon a young but talented player, Shaudrick Martin, to fill the gap.
"We really don't have a backup at the four," DuBose said. "Losing Daniel is going to hurt, mostly from a leadership standpoint. He was our leading rebounder last year, and second-leading scorer, but the leadership is what I'm worried about. But as far as talent making up for it, we've got plenty of talent."
DuBose indicated that his boys had chosen to wear a patch on their shorts in Goza's memory, and the girls' team will likely wear black armbands. A short ceremony is also planned at the team's first regular-season home game Dec. 2 against Hart County.
"The first week was pretty difficult," DuBose said. "It's like we kept looking around, waiting for Daniel to come into the gym. He was one of the kids who carried us through our rebuilding the last two or three years. He honestly believed we had a shot at a state championship. All these kids think that, and I think we've got a shot, too. I hate it that Daniel missed out on whatever we accomplish this season. He deserved to be a part of it."
GIRLS HOPE TO IMPROVE ON SUCCESS
Most coaches would have loved to be in Jacobs' shoes in the 1999-2000 season. The Lady Dragons' run-and-shoot style propelled them into the Sweet Sixteen of the state tournament. Only one starter and one sub from that team were lost to graduation. So what does Jacobs think about his team's chances?
"We're not going to win a game all year," the coach said in his usual convincing tone. Prod a little deeper, though, and the truth emerges.
"We have some depth, for a change. We've been young forever, but we're not young anymore. This team had 15 and 19 wins in the past two seasons, and they've played together since the sixth grade. It's time to reap the benefits."
Point guard Staci Childress will lead the Lady Dragons down court, with shooting stars Lee DuBose and Brooklyne Marlowe in the wings. Annie Goza will return inside, and will see time at the four and five spots, with the other slot going either to Sunny Bush or Melinda Floyd. Audrey Johnson could also pick up some starts, in addition to senior Ashley Evans, who is recovering from a third-degree ankle sprain. Providing support off the bench will be Molly Cleveland, Taryn Gurley and Vanessa Greenwood.
"We've got three legitimate two-figure scorers," Jacobs said, "and a fourth that should be. We'll run the break, and we'll press, because we're so small. If we had a big kid, we could probably contend for the whole thing."
Most of the Lady Dragons played summer ball, and the team lost only two games in the off-season. The first was to an AAU all-star team from North Carolina. The second came at the hands of class AAAAA South Cobb, who returns a full team from last season's 30-2 class AAAA squad. The Lady Dragons actually led South Cobb at the half. They also picked up wins over strong teams from Central Gwinnett and Holy Innocents over the summer.
"Our region is tough," Jacobs said. "Wesleyan is all back, Commerce has their shooters back, and Buford will be ready to play even without Christi Thomas. Providence could beat any of us, and Lakeview is going to end up beating someone they shouldn't. I just hope it's not us."

NOTICE: The Dragon football team's playoff game will be at Athens Academy Friday night, November 17 at 7:30 p.m., not 8:00 p.m. as reported in this week's printed edition.




Panther teams have sights set high
Most high school basketball teams would be at a loss after losing key seniors from the previous season. Not the Jackson County Panthers. The Panthers lost marquee players from both the boys' and girls' teams to graduation, but both Ron Garren and Annette Watts say they have younger players who are ready to step up and accept the challenge.
The Panthers will get their first opportunity to face that challenge Saturday at home, when the school hosts the first annual Pepsi Tipoff Challenge. Also participating in the event will be Banks County, Johnson and Lumpkin County. The two-day tournaments begin at 4 p.m. Saturday. The Lady Panthers will take to the court first for Jackson County at 7 p.m., against Lumpkin County. A boys' matchup between the two teams will follow.
GIRLS DOWN 40 TO START
Annette Watts' girls face the difficult task of replacing the 40-plus points per game lost when Monic Stewart, Abrielle Varnum, Krystal Britt, Toya Thomas and Carly Parr all graduated last spring. Still, Watts said this week that the Lady Panthers' goal is to work their way back to a state tournament spot.
"We did expect to go farther last year," Watts said. "It was disappointing, but we have eight people out there who have that in their memory. Our goal certainly is to get back to where we were last year, and we want to go on."
Another group of seniors will be asked to accomplish that goal.
Megan Elliott will take over at point guard, with Kristi Healan and Carla Cato on the outside. Inside, Watts will look to April Cantrell and Crystal Edge. Backing up the starting five will be Ashley Rainwater, Tosha Ransom, Nikki Sosebee, Carrie Hammond and twins Carrie and Crystal Yonce.
"Our second five is just about as good as the first five," Watts said. "We've just got to find those additional points we lost. That's what we're working on, finding out where everybody is best."
The spring realignment by the GHSA left region 8-AAA a shell of its former self, but the teams that are new to the region offer some stiff competition. The region is divided into north and south subregions for the basketball season. In addition to Jackson County, Winder-Barrow, Monroe Area, Loganville and Eastside make up the south. The north subregion consists of teams from Madison, Hart, Stephens, Elbert and Franklin counties. The top four teams from the end-of-season region tournament will advance to the state tourney.
"Every game is going to mean something this year," Watts said.
Entering her second season at Jackson County, Watts seemed surprised at the Lady Panthers' work ethic.
"I can't say enough about how hard they are working. We decided this season to say that hard work will be the difference, and this bunch works hard."
BAR SET HIGH FOR BOYS
On the boys' side of the gym, Garren said this week that his team's goals are high.
"I feel good about where this program is. We've been building this team over the last couple of seasons, and we hope this is the year we compete for the region championship. With four starters back from last year, we've set the bar high."
Those four starters are guards Blake Wilson and Tim Birdette, along with big guys B.J. Wilmont and Dustin David.
"Dustin gives us a lot of flexibility," Garren said. "He can play four of the five positions. We can keep him outside if we want to go big with Jay Tory or Adam Hughes or Chuck Kubiak, or he can move inside if we want to play Deston Stephens, C.J. Weaver or Alan Finch." Senior Jason Pittman, who played as a freshman, returns to the roster this season.
"We feel like both B.J. and Blake will have an opportunity to play at the next level. Jason gives us a little depth at point. For the first time since I've been here, our varsity team is made up primarily of juniors and seniors."
With no starters playing football this fall, the Panthers would be good to go right away, except for Wilmont, who is recovering from recent surgery. Wilmont will miss the tipoff tournament, but is expected back in time for the regular-season opener Nov. 28 against Elbert County.
"We're kind of approaching that from a positive standpoint," Garren said. "We know what B.J. can do when he returns. This will give some of our juniors an opportunity to get some extra playing time."
Garren said all five teams in the south should be able to compete, but Eastside's two NCAA Division I prospects put them at the top of the preseason heap. The Panthers and Winder-Barrow are expected to fight for the second spot, with well-coached teams from Monroe Area and Loganville battling for position.
"There won't be much difference in one through five," Garren said.
Jackson County was chosen to host a state sectional tournament in February.
"Our goal is to make it there," Garren said. The top four teams from the region tournament will qualify for state tournament play. Region quarterfinals will be played at Hart County, and Loganville will host the region's final four to determine state seeds.
Al Darby returns to assist with the varsity squad. Joe Lancaster heads up the JV team, with Bob Roller coaching freshmen. Former Panther players James Kite and Justin Lott will serve as lay-coaches for the JV and freshman teams.

Seniors to lead MCHS in 2000
A taste of state.
The Madison County senior girls got just that last month in softball.
And this weekend, nine Lady Raider seniors will begin the quest for another state tournament appearance, opening the 2000 hoops season.
Raider coach Tim Cook, whose squad finished 18-5 last year, said he's excited to have such a big group of "hard-working" and "unselfish" seniors.
"They've played so long together," said Cook of his nine seniors. "They're a tight-knit group. There's no selfishness. They don't care who gets the glory."
The Lady Raider seniors include Stacie Beard, Brittney Escoe, Renee Mathews, Heather Jones, Tera Bellamy, Aiyana Hunter, Sheena Mason, Valerie Norman and Ashley Myers.
Cook said Mathews will start at point guard, Jones and Hunter at the wing positions, and Bellamy and Myers at the post spots.
Jones is filling in at the starting wing position while Escoe recovers from a shoulder injury suffered during softball. Escoe averaged 12.1 points per game last year, second on the team to Tawana Moon, who graduated in the spring after averaging 17.9 points per game.
Cook said Moon's departure is a "big loss." Still he feels his team will manage without her.
"Nobody was standing around (during summer camps) trying to find her," he said. "The girls stepped up and picked up her points."
Cook looks for strong play again from Escoe, as well as Myers, who had a big summer, he said.
"Where we get good mismatches is with Ashley Myers," said Cook. "She's great from the outside and she can drive too."
He also points to Bellamy, a transfer from Franklin County. Cook is excited by her play, saying she is an outstanding leaper who will help improve the Lady Raiders in the paint.
"It's always hard to come in to a new team," said Cook. "But she's fit in well with this team. She plays bigger than 5'10" because she leaps so well."
While the starters are strong this year, backups will carry a big load for the Lady Raiders in 2000.
"We do have depth," said Cook. "We'll play nine or 10 girls a night. Most high school girls' teams play about seven girls a night, so we'll have a big advantage."
He said that the depth and up-tempo style of play will give Madison County a real edge in the fourth quarter as opponents become fatigued.
Cook's team recently set some lofty goals. They include going undefeated, 13-0, at home, winning the sub-region with an undefeated 8-0 record and making the state tournament.
"When they're totally focused they're as good as anyone on the schedule," said Cook of his team. "But any team on the schedule could beat us....The key to our success is whether we as a group prepare ourselves to play every night."
Cook said the girls' program is as good as it's been in his eight years with the school, adding that he looks for big things from this year's junior varsity squad.
"The ninth through twelfth grade is the best-looking group of basketball players I've had," he said.
Cook said the experience of many of the basketball players in the recent state softball tournament will carry over onto the hardwood.
"The girls got to experience the state tournament and now they know how that feels," he said. "...The community should be excited about this team."


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