By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
Here are five girls teams to watch in the Class A playoffs.
St. Francis. Knights head coach Aisha Gaddis preached all season that Wesleyan was the gold standard, the program her team needed to beat to be considered elite. After several tries, including two this season, St. Francis finally broke through over the weekend in the Region 5 tournament title game, 52-45. The Knights (23-5), No. 4 in the latest state rankings, have a starting five that may be the state’s most talented. It includes forward Keyona Hayes, who has signed with Miami, and junior guard Nigia Greene, as skilled and athletic as any guard – in any classification – in the state. Point guard Candice Williams sets the tempo. The only way St. Francis and Wesleyan could face each other again this season would be in the state title game in Macon, March 10.
Wesleyan. The Wolves, seeking their fifth consecutive state title, have won the ultimate prize without winning the region tournament three previous years – 2004, 2005 and 2008, when they were in Class AA. After losing to St. Francis in the Region 5 tournament final Wesleyan will have to do it again this season. The Wolves will need to have someone else step up besides senior forward Holli Wilkins, who has signed with Furman. Wilkins scored 23 of the Wolves 45 points in the loss to St. Francis. Junior guard/forward Katie Frerking, and senior post players Missy Byrd and Kaelyn Causwell, are more than capable of carrying more of the load. Darlington (25-3), ranked No. 7, could provide a stiff test in the quarterfinals.
Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy. The Warriors are ranked No. 1 after Wesleyan’s loss and have won 18 in a row after getting blown out by St. Francis, 54-29, back on Dec. 30. SACA’s defensive pressure wears down opposing guards and the Warriors are able to keep it up for the full 32 minutes, if need be, even though their regular rotation is only seven deep. Guards Brandy Wilkey, Marquita Daniels and Shavontae Naylor are as good a threesome as there is in Georgia, while sophomore forward Amy Griffin is one of the top players in the Class of 2014. If junior center Alexis Carter, who has been sidelined all season recovering from a knee injury, can come back and contribute, SACA could raise the championshp trophy for the first time since 2006. A second-round matchup with the winner of No. 6 Gordon Lee (25-3) vs. No. 8 Pace (21-6) will provide a stern test.
Calvary Day. The last team to win the Class A state title not named Wesleyan was the Cavaliers, back in 2008. Calvary Day (25-2) is led by four All-Region 3 performers – Kelsey Ellis, Ariel Martinez, Alexus Parker and Rachel LeGear. After consecutive losses in December to teams from higher classifications – Valdosta, which is in the Class AAAAA playoffs, and Dutchtown, which finished 19-8 in Class AAAA – the Cavs have won 20 in a row. A possible second round game against either Pelham or Turner County will show if Calvary Day is ready to make a run for the title.
Taylor County. The historical record Wesleyan is chasing belongs to the Vikings (23-1), who won five consecutive titles from 1968-1972 in three classifications. Taylor County’s lone loss this season was to Class AAA Rutland, 44-42. The Region 4 champions, ranked No. 5, are led by a trio of seniors, forwards Artisha Holston and Brittany Troutman, and guard Keshundra Jackson, as well as freshman guard Xiomara Smith. A quarter final matchup against Calvary Day could be on the horizon.