Recent losses by the Shiloh and Providence Christian boys have left three Gwinnett County teams — all girls squads — still undefeated as the 2019-20 high school basketball campaign exits the holiday break and heads down the home stretch of the regular season.
Buford (15-0), the top-ranked team in the latest Kyle Sandy/Georgia Sports Writers Association Class AAAAA poll, Collins Hill (18-0) and Hebron Christian (18-0), No 2 in AAAAAA and A (Private) respectively, have one common element in amassing their separate clean slates to date.
The Wolves, Eagles and Lions all feature plenty of new faces, and being able to form such strong team chemistry has made their respective runs even more impressive.
“We had 10 seniors last year, and only have two this year,” Buford coach Gene Durden said. “We’re still pretty young, and I’m just glad we’re progressing, getting better and just playing good basketball.”
Buford has pulled off its impressive run behind seniors Tate Walters and Katelyn Klein, plus younger players like juniors Abbi Perkins and Blair Wallis and sophomores Tatum Ozment and Tamori Plantin, while the other two unbeaten teams have had even more newcomers to have to blend together as a team.
For Hebron, which is an even younger team than Buford with no seniors on the roster, that not only includes players like Malia Fisher, Nicole Azar, Jessie Parish and Carly Fahey, but also a new coach.
However, the fact that new coach is Jan Azar, who built a 22-year career as one of the state’s winningest coaches at Wesleyan before moving over to Hebron last spring, makes the Lions’ quick ascent less surprising.
Meanwhile, Collins Hill’s roster also underwent a major makeover, with incoming transfers like Sacha Washington, Eden Sample, Asjah Inniss and Kamryn Collins joining holdovers like Jailah Clark-Jones, Aniecia Malone and Yamea Elliott to form an impressive squad that has never even been really challenged thus far.
The Eagles’ closest win has been by 16 points, and they’ve disposed of several other opponents by margins well into the 20s, 30s and more.
However, all three undefeated teams should get much stiffer challenges as the regular season winds down.
Collins Hill has an important Region 6-AAAAAAA game with surprising Peachtree Ridge (11-5, 5-1) next Friday, followed by a non-region matchup with still formidable Wesleyan (12-2, No. 3 in A (Private)) in the MLK Classic the following Monday at Holy Innocents’.
Head coach Brian Harmon is very much looking forward to see how his Eagles respond to such a stern test to prepare them for the region and state tournaments.
“I’m excited just to see how we do because (Wesleyan has) got a good team, and they kind of play the same way we play as far as pressing most of the game,” Harmon said. “So I’m excited for that game. … Nobody’s really been close. We’ve played a couple of tough teams that were physically tough. Their physicality kind of bothered us a little bit, but we’ve either shot the ball well or turned people over to get a cushion. (The tough stretch) comes at the right time. I’m glad we scheduled it for that time period. I was looking for a game like (Wesleyan).”
Meanwhile, Buford’s schedule will also toughen in the coming weeks, with two non-region games against AAA No. 3 Jefferson (15-3), plus single games with Peachtree Ridge and Wesleyan, which it outlasted in a 60-59 decision in November, also on the docket.
Hebron’s toughest remaining game before tournament time iwould appear to be its regular season finale against Lakeview Academy (12-5) on Jan. 31.
Peachtree Ridge girls continue to rise
While the aforementioned Peachtree Ridge girls team hasn’t had quite the success the trio of undefeated teams, it is on a quite a roll of its own of late.
The Lions have won five of their last six games to help extend the program’s best start in more than a decade and remain on track for perhaps on of the best seasons in school history.
Buoyed by recent Gwinnett Tipoff Club honorees in junior Nadya McCown and 6-foot-1 freshman Aayliah Hunt, Peachtree Ridge remains just one game behind Collins Hill for the Region 6-AAAAAAA lead heading into Friday’s game at Duluth.
Providence, Hebron boys prepare for intriguing region battle
The rivalry between Gwinnett private schools Hebron Christian and Providence Christian has always made for an interesting matchup in any sport.
However, when the Lions (11-5, 2-0) welcome the Storm (16-1, 3-1) to their gym Saturday at 5 p.m., the results will have implications besides county bragging rights.
Hebron remains tied with Athens Academy and Riverside Military Academy in the Region 8-A standings, but Providence is very must still in the mix.
While the Storm’s big start, which included a 16-game winning streak to start the season behind newcomers Elijah Williams and Chance Thacker before it was halted Tuesday with a loss to Athens Academy, has garnered more attention, the Lions have quietly put together an impressive start of their own.
Behind contributions from on-floor leaders like Sam Hutto (20 ppg, 8 rpg), Scott Gabel (15 ppg) and Zach Calvert (12 ppg), Hebron is on its way to perhaps its best season since a 20-9 campaign in 2015-16.
And first-year coach Brandon Johnson is eager to see how his squad stacks up as he and his squad battles Providence and its first-year coach in Joey Thacker.
“The culture of both schools is strong, and we’re trying to improve on it,” Johnson said. “I have a lot of respect for Providence, and (Thacker) is doing a great job over there, and we’re looking forward to competing against them. … It’s cool to play in a big game like this.”