After Grovetown’s record-setting campaign last season, girls basketball coach Jaime Echols decided to make things tougher for his team this time around.
After the Lady Warriors went 28-2 and advanced to the second round of the state playoffs for the first time a season ago, Echols beefed up his team’s schedule. He traded losses for experience, his team playing a tough nonregion slate that included the likes No. 1 Johnson (Class AAA), No. 1 Cross Creek (Class AAAA) and North Augusta (24-0). As Grovetown enters postseason play tonight, the Lady Warriors will take that experience, along with a renewed sense of confidence, with them.
“The last couple of years, we just excited to get there, to get to the second round,” said Echols, whose team plays host to Coffee at 6 p.m. “This year, I feel like we have a great chance to go past that. Of course, if we don’t play well we could get beat Friday.”
A particularly strong year for area girls programs means several will play host to first-round games tonight. After sweeping through its region undefeated and boasting a 26-1 record, Laney will be at home against Swainsboro at 5:30. Cross Creek, which also ran through its region undefeated, will play host to a tough Americus-Sumter team at 6.
Laney’s boys will also be home tonight at 7 against Bacon County, while Richmond Academy’s boys and girls open the playoffs against Shaw at 6 and 7:30.
Grovetown (20-7) has three seniors, two of them starters in forward Destiny Marshall and guard Elizabeth Metress. Marshall enters the state tournament with 1,999 career points and sports a 23.2 scoring average this year. Metress is the school’s all-time leading 3-point shooter, including a 59 of 184 effort this season. Also, junior forward Ayana Collins averages 12.1 points and 10.8 points a contest.
The Lady Warriors cruised through region play until suffering a six-point loss, Jan. 31, at Greenbrier. Grovetown bounced back and won its two region tournament games last week by a combined 80 points.
“I’m never one to say that a loss is a good thing, but it refocused us, even me,” Echols said. “We learned a lot from that loss that helped us in that region tournament. Practices have been a little more energized, a little more unified. We’ve made it into a positive.”
In boys action, Lakeside (21-4) has already set a school record for a wins, won a first region title and is believed to be holding its first home playoff game Saturday when it plays host to Valdosta at 6 p.m.
“These kids are fighters,” first-year Panthers coach Jeff Williams said. “We’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing. We go into games with the same mentality all the time.”