Area Sports...

November 14, 2001

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Hoops 01-02
Banner season ahead for Panthers, Dragons?
COMING off a 6-for-6 year in terms of playoff appearances, how can Jackson County's basketball teams improve in the coming season?
How about a final four sweep? According to coaches at Jefferson and Jackson County, the 2001-02 basketball season could be their most successful ever.
Jefferson's girls face the challenge of trying to repeat as state champions, and though he consistently downplays his team's chances, Kevin Jacobs secretly believes the Lady Dragons may be up to the task.
"I think we've got a shot," Jacobs said. "If you look at last year, nobody got hurt, and everything worked out just right. We're real close to being either really good or just average. We've got a chance, but we're going to have to have some of our younger kids step up and play well . . . Everybody's out to get us now."
Everybody may not be out to get Jefferson's boys, but Bolling DuBose said his team should be able to compete well in the region and hopefully reach the state playoffs again.
"I'm excited about this year, and I think the kids are, too. I think we've got the ingredients to be a real good basketball team; the question is whether we can put it all together."
The Panthers feature two new head coaches who will try to establish their own systems while at the same time repeating or improving on last year's performance. Boys' coach Ron Smith says both he and girls' coach Chad Pittman have received plenty of support, and both indicated they are ready to win right away.
"It's going to be an exciting year for both of us . . . Everybody has welcomed both of us, and we've had everybody's full support so far."
Both Smith and Pittman hope to guide their teams not only to state tournament berths, but to the final four in Macon.
"We asked the girls what their goals were," Pittman said, "and I was really impressed with their response. They said they wanted to go back to state and then one step further to the final four . . . I'd love to be part of that."
Smith echoed Pittman's comments.
"I'm not here just to draw a supplement; reaching the final four is our goal. I'm realistic; the final four is not going to be our goal every year, but this year, that's our goal. I think this is going to be a very special year."

Turn to pages 2B and 3B for more in-depth previews of Jefferson and Jackson County. Commerce will not begin its season until Dec. 4, and will be previewed in a few weeks.

Taking it to the hole
Leopards, Lady Leopards to begin season
After what could be seen as a down year last season, the Lady Leopards are looking to put together a successful team in 2001. And Banks County may just have the tools to do so.
"I'm always optimistic," head coach Mike Gordon said. "But I think we have the capabilities to have a better team than last year if everyone jells together."
The Lady Leopards, who were 6-19 last year, lost six seniors to graduation. Two of them were among the team's top five scorers.
But this year, Banks is returning a host of players who saw considerable playing time last season.
"We're going to have more depth than we had last year or in the past couple of years," Gordon said.
The Lady Leopards' number two scorer from last year returns to the court. Junior Ashley Freeman, who missed four games last year, averaged 12.7 points per game.
"She's back and healthy and has improved from last year," Gordon said.
Banks also returns seniors Megan Williams, Joni Martin and Maggie Elrod. Juniors Dana Garrish, Ashley Campbell and Jessica Kennedy will likely see extended playing time as well. Gordon added that he also plans to use freshman Kayla Duncan.
Gordon de-emphasized the role of a starting five on the team, saying he would look to a number of players to start in various games.
"We'll have multiple starting roles depending on what we're up against," he said. "It's not who starts but who finishes strong."
Gordon said he expects the team to have a multiple offensive attack against its opponents.
"We have a better outside and inside punch," he said. "We're not one-dimensional at all. Our inside game is stronger and we have some that can shoot from the perimeter. On nights we can put them both together, we'll be strong."
He points to the team's lack of speed as one of its weaknesses.
"We don't have enough quickness," he said. "We're not quick enough to be a press team."
But if the Lady Leopards have anything to do with it, they'll likely find ways to overcome their speed problem.
"Practice has been good and they've shown a lot of enthusiasm," Gordon said. "I like what I've seen so far."
Gordon said he expects defending state champion Greater Atlanta Christian to be the region's top threat.
"They're probably the team to beat," he said. "After that, our whole side is strong. It's going to be tough every night."
He looked to Rabun County to be the region's surprise team.
"They started three freshman last year and they've got the nucleus of their team back," he said.
The Lady Leopards will get their first test of the season this weekend in the Madison County Tipoff Tournament. Banks is set to play Madison County at 7 p.m. Saturday.
"Madison County is quick and they'll get after us all over the floor," Gordon said. "We'll get a good test the first night."
The Lady Raiders finished in the top eight in class AAA last year.
Banks will also play Apalachee in the tournament Monday at 3 p.m. On Tuesday, the Lady Leopards will face Stephens County at 4 p.m. in their final game of the tournament.
To say the Leopards have a few players to replace on their team this year would be an understatement.
Banks County lost four of its starters, four of the top five scorers, its two tallest threats, its best three-point shooter, best free throw shooter and probably its best ball handler.
"It's going to be a challenge for us," head coach Mike Ruth. "We're going to have to change the type of game we play."
Though the Leopards have some adversity pushing against them, Ruth isn't ready to allow the team to just roll over.
"People are picking us at the bottom of the pack," he said. "We like that. They did it last year and look where we ended up. We like that type of role."
Ruth points to the team's speed as its primary strenght this year. He expects to put pressure on the opposing team on offense and defense. And when their run down, he'll substitute players and press some more.
"We have a lot of kids that can cover a lot of ground," Ruth said. "To be successful we'll have to play great full court defense. We've got to keep pressure on folks. We'll be aggressive. It'll definately be fun to watch. There will be a lot of helter-skelter stuff going on."
Ruth expects his defense to play a major role in most of the Leopards' battles.
"We will run a lot," he said. "We're going to let the defense run the game."
After losing a large chunk of the offense, Ruth said the team's weakness will be its lack of outside shooters. But despite the losses, the Leopards will return several players who saw playing time last year.
Seniors Cody Whitlock and Will Gordon return to the court this year. Both saw a fair share of playing time last year. Whitlcok was also the team's number three scorer, averaging 10 points per game.
"I think they'll fill the leadership roles on the team," Ruth said.
Dustin Bonds, Corey Sims and Tyler Sims will likely round out the Leopards starting five.
Banks County will have a full rotation of younger players coming off the bench-a bench Ruth expects to go to often in the game.
"We'll go three or four minutes at a time and go to the bench," he said. "We've got a decent bench."
Reggie Smith, Matt Dale, Kris Drummond, Seth McCoy, Corey Morris and Kyle Duncan will all get time off the bench for Banks County.
"We've got a great bunch of kids that are real coachable," Ruth said. "I haven't had a group like this in a while. I feel real good about their attitude. This is a whole new bunch and I don't know how they'll handle different situations. They haven't been out as a unit before."
As far as the region goes, Ruth looks to East Hall to again be the tough team in the region.
"East Hall is still head and shoulders above everyone else," he said. "They've reloaded and have a lot of young kids they can play."
Ruth said he expects Union, White and Lumpkin to follow behind East Hall. He also said GAC and Apalachee will be tough opponents.
"We're in the lower part of the region," he said. "We'll have to prove ourselves. Once we get our feet wet and feel our improvement, I think this bunch could surprise some people."
The Leopards get their first test Saturday night against Madison County at 8:30 p.m. in the tipoff tournament in Danielsville. On Monday, Banks will face Apalachee at 4:30 p.m., and they'll take on Franklin County Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.
And if the weekend goes right, the Leopards could start working toward their goal.
"Most of the people set goals to make it to the state playoffs," Ruth said. "Our goal is to get better everyday and come together as a group and a unit."

Tigers Get 'Extra Game' Friday Against Morgan Co.
Don't be surprised if you see a few trick plays and some new faces Friday night at Tiger Stadium.
With a make-up, non-region contest against Morgan County standing in the way of the state playoffs, Commerce head coach Steve Savage said the matchup with the Bulldogs will give both squads a chance to tinker around with the playbook and personnel.
"It's kind of a strange situation," Savage said of the game which was tacked onto the end of the season after originally being scheduled for Sept. 14. "It's like an extra game. Both teams will have a chance to work on some things and play some different people."
But that's not to say that the Tigers, who are set to take on 7-3 Georgia Military College in next week's state playoffs, are taking the game lightly.
Morgan County comes into the contest on a roll with a 6-3 record and a three-game winning streak and have secured a spot in the postseason.
"Morgan County is a playoff team out of the same region as Washington-Wilkes and Putnam County," Savage said. "That means they're pretty good...They're on a roll."
Savage added that the Bulldogs will bring a sound football team into Commerce.
"(Head coach) Kenny Moore and his staff do a good job of coaching and their players play the game the way its supposed to be played."
Moore said expressed a similar respect for Commerce's brand of football.
"They're well-coached, hard-nosed kids," the Bulldog coach said in a September interview. "They've got a hard-nosed offensive line...They don't have any homerun hitters like they had with Michael and Monté, but they're just a hard nosed football team."
Friday night will also test the Tigers resiliency in addition to providing preparation for the play offs. Commerce is coming off a 41-0 loss to Buford, their worst setback in five years.
But if Monday's practice is any indication, the Tigers have put the loss behind them.
"I thought Monday that we had one of our better practices of the year," Savage said. "The kids really got after it."
Friday night's 8-A contests shored up the region's seedings for the Class A state play offs.
Buford's win over Commerce gave the Wolves a number one seed and put the Tigers in the second slot. Jefferson's 31-14 win over Wesleyan gave the Dragons the third seed.
Commerce is set to take on 7-A three seed GMC while Buford will be matched up against Social Circle, Jefferson will be paired with Lincoln County and Wesleyan will take on Athens Academy.

Raiders to close season against winless Trojans
The Raiders are 8-1. North Hall is 0-9.
Two plus two logic says Madison County will whip the Trojans in the season finale in Gainesville at 7:30 p.m.
But Raider coach Tom Hybl isn't sold on that notion.
"This is an excellent team," said Hybl of North Hall. "They haven't won any games, we watched five games on film and watched them play Oconee last week. They are talented and well-coached. They are just playing in a difficult region."
Hybl expects North Hall to "run right at" the Raiders Friday, with some misdirection thrown in, no more razzle-dazzle offense of North Hall past.
"They have a new coach running the wing T," said Hybl of the Trojans. "They got kids playing harder. We know we've got our work cut out," said Hybl.
The North Hall roster includes 72 players, including 13 seniors.
First-year Trojan coach Bob Christmas, who moved from a solid program in Bainbridge to coach North Hall, has significantly changed both offensive and defensive approaches.
"We're running a completely different style of defense (an eight-man front)," Christmas told the Gainesville Times.

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  Banks County
Date Opponent Score
8/31 at JCCHS 12-7
9/7 Jefferson 7-35
9/21 Dawson Co. 0-28
9/28 at East Hall 0-28
10/5 GAC 0-48
10/12 at Apalachee 0-30
10/19 Lumpkin Co. 0-20
10/26 at Union Co. 0-35
11/2 Rabun Co. 21-18
11/9 at White Co. -

Date Opponent Score
8/31 Franklin Co 29-13
9/7 at Forsyth Ctrl 14-35
9/14 Morgan Co ppd.
9/21 at Walhalla, SC 35-24
9/28 at Lincoln Co 13-12
10/5 at Ath Acad 7-34
10/12 Wash-Wilkes 26-49
10/26 Wesleyan 24-15
11/2 at Jefferson 14-0
11/9 Buford -
11/16  Morgan Co. -

  Jackson County
Date Opponent Score
8/31 Banks Co 7-12
9/7 at Madison Co 7-35
9/14 at Elbert Co ppd.
9/28 Hart 3-51
10/5 at Eastside 7-47
10/12 Loganville 0-47
10/19 at Franklin 21-14
10/26 Winder-Barrow 0-35
11/2 Stephens Co 3-34
11/9 at Monroe Area -
 11/16 at Elbert Co.  -

Date Opponent Score
8/31 Athens Christian 40-6
9/7 at Banks Co 35-7
9/14 at Johns-G'ville ppd.
9/21 Madison Co 11-14
9/28 at Social Circle 21-28
10/5 Oglethorpe Co 21-6
10/12 Lndmrk Christ 23-14
10/26 at Buford 0-41
11/2 Commerce 0-14
11/9 at Wesleyan -
 11/16  at Johns-G'ville  -

  Madison County
Date Opponent Score
8/24 South Forsyth 0-17
9/1 Apalachee 36-3
9/7 Jackson Co 35-7
9/14 at North Hall ppd.
9/21 at Jefferson 14-11
9/28 Warren Co 14-7
10/5 Union Grove 35-6
10/19 at Wesleyan 14-0
10/26 at Union Grove 14-10
11/2 Athens Christian 49-6
11/16 at N. Hall  -
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