By James Butler
A total of 10 teams from the Southern Crescent made their respective girls basketball state tournament fields this season. They range from a perennial state visitor like Dutchtown, to a breakthrough region champ in Mount Zion, and up-and-coming programs like Spalding and Whitewater.
Here’s a rundown of our tournament teams and their first-round matchups.
LOVEJOY (16-11, 6-4 in Region 2-AAAAAA)
FIRST ROUND GAME: Wed. at No. 2 seed Westlake (23-5, 12-2 in Region 3-AAAAAA)
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: Lovejoy has played competitively this season against good teams, but fell short once again in its bid to beat Newton – this time in the Region 2 semifinals. Nevertheless, head coach Cedric King has two state finals appearances on his resume (Sandy Creek and Carver) and is laying the foundation for similar success in his first season at Lovejoy.
THE ROAD AHEAD: Beating Westlake would put an exclamation point on the type of season Lovejoy has had. A win would also likely mean a meeting with Norcross in the second round.
MORROW (16-11, 15-6 in Region 4-AAAAA, Div. A)
FIRST ROUND GAME: Tue. at No. 2 seed Carver-Columbus (23-4, 12-0 in Region 1-AAAAA)
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: Morrow lost to Woodland in the Region 4-AAAAA Semifinals, but first-year head coach Ashley De Marr has the Lady Mustangs back in the state field after a long hiatus. Morrow has relied on the toughness of senior bigs Zairria Brittian and Mariah Scott as well as seniors Autum Irvin and Kristen Kenny, and junior guard Da’Ja Green.
THE ROAD AHEAD: If Morrow beats Carver-Columbus, who went undefeated in its Region 1-AAAAA regular season before losing in its tournament final, a trip to the third round (quarterfinals) is likely.
WOODLAND (16-4, 13-4 in Region 4-AAAAA, Div. B)
FIRST ROUND GAME: Tue. vs. No. 3 seed Northside-Columbus (18-7, 8-4 in Region 1-AAAAA)
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: Woodland looks to shake off its loss to Dutchtown in the Region 4-AAAAA championship game when it hosts Northside Columbus. The Lady Wolfpack have had another successful season even with a new coach, but three of its losses came at the hands of Dutchtown. Carla Holloway is yet another first-year coach who has a team in the state field.
THE ROAD AHEAD: Northside-Columbus represents another competitive team from Region 1, so Woodland must be on its game to win, even at home. A one-loss Flowery Branch team may await in Round 2.
DUTCHTOWN (18-8, 14-5 in Region 4-AAAAA, Div. B)
FIRST ROUND GAME: Tue. vs. No. 4 seed Harris County (18-9, 6-6 in Region 1-AAAA)
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: Dutchtown won the Region 4-AAAA championship after finishing just short the last two seasons. Former Jonesboro head coach Lamar Harris has Dutchtown continuing — and even building — off its success in previous seasons.
THE ROAD AHEAD: The No. 1 vs. No. 4 battle with Harris County may show just how the two regions fit in the state landscape. Potential second round opponent Loganville is battle-tested and would be another measuring stick.
MUNDY’S MILL (17-8, 14-6 in Region 4-AAAAA, Div. A)
FIRST ROUND GAME: Tue. at No. 1 seed Columbus (21-5, 9-3 in Region 1-AAAAA)
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: Mundy’s Mill entered the Region 4-AAAAA Tournament as the top seed in its subregion, but ended it by losing its final two games. Still, Mundy’s Mill surpassed many expectations this season as the twin backcourt of seniors Kiara and Kiana Glenn shined.
THE ROAD AHEAD: Columbus upset Carver-Columbus for the region crown, but just may be Region 1’s most talented team with standout juniors Tatyana Wyatt and Ariyah Copeland. If Mundy’s Mill wins, tough meetings with Hiram and Southwest DeKalb could follow.
GRIFFIN (22-6, 12-4 in Region 4-AAAA, Div. B)
FIRST ROUND GAME: Tue. at No. 2 seed Westover (16-10, 8-5 in Region 1-AAAA)
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: The Lady Bears were the odd team out in Region 4-AAAA’s three-team battle for a top-two seed and a first round home game. Still, the Lady Bears are dangerous and will present matchup problems to any opponent.
THE ROAD AHEAD: Despite its Region 1-AAAA runner-up finish, Westover has been on the wrong end of several blowouts this season, so Griffin should approach its trip to Albany with confidence. If Griffin does win, a trip to Region 5 champion and last season’s state finalist Carrollton would likely follow.
JONESBORO (20-4, 12-1 in Region 4-AAAA, Div. B)
FIRST ROUND GAME: Wed. vs. No. 3 seed Bainbridge (22-6, 12-1 in Region 1-AAAA)
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: Jonesboro fell to Mount Zion 50-40 in the Region 4 Championship Game. The Lady Cardinals’ failure to repeat as region champions says more about Mount Zion’s improvement than any Jonesboro decline, as John Bishop is continuing along the path that Lamar Harris blazed during his time ate the school.
THE ROAD AHEAD: Bainbridge is a three-seed due in part to an upset in the Region 1 semifinals. Provided Jonesboro wins, Region 8 champion North Oconee could offer even more of a challenge in round two.
MOUNT ZION (24-4, 8-2 in Region 4-AAAA, Div. B)
FIRST ROUND GAME: Tue. vs. No. 4 seed Monroe (17-9, 11-4 in Region 1-AAAA)
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: The season has been a culmination for the Lady Bulldog program as the team has steadily improved in each of Tiesha Wilson’s four seasons as head coach. Senior Tyeisha Juhan is one of the top players in Class AAAA.
THE ROAD AHEAD: Mount Zion does not have as clear of a path as some region champions do. Monroe is a dangerous four-seed and Buford is a potential opponent in the second round as a two-seed.
SPALDING (16-12, 5-7 in Region 4-AAAA, Div. B)
FIRST ROUND GAME: Tue. at No. 1 seed Americus-Sumter (26-1, 13-0 in Region 1-AAAA)
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: Head coach Tykira Gilbert has taken a Lady Jaguar team who had a losing record in 2014-15, and has only two seniors, to state. Spalding has played top-notch squads from November until now, so do not expect the young Lady Jaguars to be in awe of state tournament-caliber competition.
THE ROAD AHEAD: Spalding arguably has the toughest first-round draw of any Southern Crescent girls team in defending quarterfinalist Americus-Sumter. The Lady Panthers feature point guard A’Tyanna Gaulden, a Florida State signee, and have only one loss.
WHITEWATER (14-13, 4-6 in Region 5-AAAA)
FIRST ROUND GAME: Tue. at No. 2 seed Buford (22-5, 8-1 in Region 8-AAAA)
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: Whitewater is another young team trying to make a state tournament run, as four of head coach Rashad Muhyee’s key contributors are freshmen. Whitewater made the trip to state from Region 5 a season ago behind current Jacksonville State University guard Jada Coggins, but returning with such youth signifies a bright future for the Lady Wildcats.
THE ROAD AHEAD: Buford is a tough first round draw. The defending Class 4A Champions are also being powered by youth, but also with only one senior. However, their 22-5 record suggests that the Lady Wolves have successfully reloaded.