The Winder-Barrow girls’ basketball team has lost its fair share of generational talent the last couple years, including the program’s all-time leading scorer who graduated after last season. But Kimberly Garren, who is entering her third year as the Lady Bulldoggs’ head coach isn’t lowering the expectations as she looks to new leaders to fill the void.
“I’ve told this group that their time is now to prove that the bar is still high and that we can still reach it,” said Garren, whose team opens its season Friday, Nov. 15, at Walnut Grove. “I feel really good about this season. This group took about two weeks off after last season ended and they’ve literally worked the entire time since then. I can’t get them out of the gym. They love working on their game.”
After three straight Elite Eight appearances (including a state runner-up finish the first year) and back-to-back region titles, the Lady Bulldoggs went 18-10 and reached the state playoffs again last year despite returning only one starter from that core group. The team was led last winter by four-year starting guard Chellia Watson, who averaged 24.8 points per game and finished her high school career the holder of 14 different records at WBHS.
Watson is now at Cincinnati and the Lady Bulldoggs will now need to have other scorers step up. The good news, though, is that aside from guard Makayla Jones the entire team from last season returns.
“It’s going to be challenging, but I think we have multiple people capable of filling the void,” Garren said. “Our slogan this year is ‘All In,’ and that means everybody doing what it takes to pick up the slack and get the job done. We want to make it back to the state playoffs, and I think we’re capable of doing that. I’m excited to see how our offseason work pays off.”
Sophomore Taniyah Parrish, who averaged a double-double as a freshman (10.1 points, 14.3 rebounds) is among those key starters who are back for Winder-Barrow.
“She’s a big who can own the boards, and she’s developed a good shot that will help her score away from the goal. We have a lot of team speed, and she doesn’t slow us down because she can get out there and run with our fastest kids. That’s one of her strongest assets.”
Senior Keirsten Jackson will provide backup at the post for Parrish, while senior Daisia Stillwell, who Garren described as a “tone setter” and “role model” for the team, will lead a group of guards for Winder-Barrow. Junior Kiona Lindsay, junior twins Keonna and Teonna Hamler and senior Torrie Sauls will also be taking on bigger roles.
“All those girls have improved their game and we’re going to be counting on them,” Garren said. “Without Chellia running the point, we’re going to be divvying up the responsibility more and we’re going to be trying to make sure foul trouble is not an issue. I think running our system more effectively so that everyone knows where they’re supposed to be and stepping up our intensity level are going to be the key.”
Along with the high expectations, Garren didn’t shy away from a rigorous non-region schedule designed to help prepare the Lady Bulldoggs for their GHSA Region 8-AAAAAA slate. Among the non-region games are two with Madison County, which has arguably the top player in the entire state in junior Kayla McPherson. And if the Lady Bulldoggs want a chance at the region title, they’ll have to go through some tough competition, including reigning state champion Lanier and Dacula.
“Non-region wise, I tried to schedule teams with similar size, speed and athleticism to what we’re going to see in the region,” Garren said. “We’re going to play a lot of super-disciplined, fundamentally sound teams. But I believe we can beat anyone on our schedule if we buy into the plan and rely on each other.
“Our message to the team is do you job because no one else can.”