By James Butler
FAYETTEVILLE, Ga. — Fayette County got its first official look at its high school hoops teams Sunday during its basketball media day at Whitewater High.
And with a total of six teams from the county that made their respective Georgia High School Association State Tournaments a season ago, the 2015-16 year looks to be chocked full of competitive hardwood action.
Whitewater’s girls head coach Rashad Muhyee MC’d the event, and his team is one of the six coming off of a trip to the state playoffs as the Lady Wildcats notched the fourth seed in Region 5-AAAA last year.
After losing Jacksonville State signee Jada Coggins as well as point guard Rena Jenkins, Whitewater will depend a lot on youth. Center Jada Claude, guard Morgan Johnson, guard Courtney Smith, and wing Janiya Jones are all freshmen who are expected to contribute.
“We may end up starting all four freshmen, so it’s going to be an exciting year with the mix of the freshman and seniors,” Muhyee said.
All the faces for Muhyee’s group won’t be new, though. Some of the Lady Wildcat returnees will be Olivia Baker (wing) and senior guards Sally Worst and Jordan Barnett. Barnett, a four-year starter, was Whitewater’s second leading scorer last season.
LADY CHIEFS LOOK TO FILL VOID
The McIntosh girls, coming off of a postseason trip of their own, also lost a college signee in now-Samford freshman Cassidy Williams. Williams, last season’s Southern Crescent Buzz girls player of the year, paced coach David Dowse’s team just as much through her intangibles and leadership as with her scoring.
Her void is a large one, although McIntosh does have experience returning.
“We’re working hard to fill (Cassidy’s) shoes,” Lady Chiefs head coach David Dowse said. “We’re very much a system-oriented program. The system doesn’t change, but the roles of the girls on the team do change. What we ask DeLayne [Rotolo], and Harley [Obsitnik], and Savannah [Soles] to do for us last year or previous years, they won’t be asked to do today.”
FLYNN, SMITH WANT MORE POSTSEASON SUCCESS
The Fayette County girls made the Class AAAA Final Four last season, while the Tiger boys qualified for state with the fourth seed in Region 5-AAAA. The boys will look to make the state tournament for the 17th season in a row under head coach Andre Flynn. He loses his top-four scorers, but winning with a changing cast is nothing new for Flynn.
“Every year it seems like we’ve graduated nine players,” Flynn said. “The process for us at Fayette County is knowing the system, buying into it, [and] playing as hard as we can possibly play.”
The Whitewater boys will look to return to the postseason under second-year head coach Julius Smith. Led by current Florida State forward Phil Cofer, Whitewater made the state tournament in 2013-14. The Wildcats suffered a losing record a season ago, but senior guard Victory Ayuk thinks that campaign will be to their benefit.
“We won a lot of games off of pure talent,” Ayuk said of the state tournament team. “Now we have a lot of leadership. We have players who played most of the minutes [and] finished the end of games.”
Finishing will be big because Whitewater had chances to beat McIntosh and region foe Carrollton a season ago.
Speaking of the reigning Region 4-AAAAA champions, McIntosh boys’ region and county rival Starr’s Mill hopes to play well enough to make state and possibly dethrone the Indians. Starr’s Mill graduated seven seniors, but returns last year’s region freshman of the year in point guard Zach Pina.
Pina is the prototypical floor general.
“I think the part of my game that’s really good is finding other people to score,” Pina said. “I need to work on scoring, but finding other people to score is something I do well.”
After winning 20 games and making the second round of the state tournament two years ago, the Starr’s Mill girls are also looking to return to state.
Alli Jones and Riley Clark were contributors on that playoff team. They are a part of a more up-tempo and athletic bunch Starr’s Mill have deployed since the heavy on fundamentals Class of 2014 graduated.
Shon Dodson is looking to revive the Sandy Creek girls program in his second year at the helm. The Lady Patriots lost just two seniors and add junior guard Kasey Toles.
“She is a scoring guard, but she is a true guard and that’s what we were lacking,” Dodson said.
While being region contenders this season like the Sandy Creek boys — the sixth state returnee from the county — would be great, Dodson hopes to build the Lady Patriots one block at a time. Having zero seniors on the roster should help build that foundation.