Championship Preview: Girls Class AA

Photo by Ty Freeman


30-0, REGION 5

Kendrick is one of the top programs in girls basketball, and for good reason. It is a 30-0 juggernaut that has been pulverizing the opposition almost without exception. Only three opponents have come within single digits of Kendrick, including Greater Atlanta Christian in a 65-62 overtime thriller in the quarterfinals. The Cherokees have won their other three state playoff games by an average of 43.3 points. Among their 28 victories are margins of 105-28, 103-26, 110-18, 91-11 and 99-20. They have advanced one round further than last year (lost to Laney in the semis) and are one win from a second state title (2008). Kendrick’s offense is clearly dangerous, but the team’s defense is actually a huge reason for so many points being scored.

Head coach Sterling Hicks implements a press defense early and often and his rotation goes as many as 15 girls deep to keep all five players on the floor fresh and eager to ball-hawk on the defen- sive end. Junior forward Taylor Farley and junior guard Angela Jones are especially active on defense. The Cherokees’ undisputed best player is 5-foot-8 senior guard Kahlia Lawrence. In just three seasons, she has exceeded the 2000-point mark for her career and is the school’s all-time leading scorer. Lawrence is averaging 27 points per game during the 2013-14 campaign. Her supporting cast, however, is more than capable and it proved as much after Lawrence fouled out with more than seven minutes left in regulation against Greater Atlanta Christian. A bulk of Kendrick’s scoring comes from in or near the paint, in part thanks to Deja Cheatham. The senior forward is averaging 16 points per contest and she scored five in over- time alone against the Spartans. Donivan Dyson, another senior forward, delivered in the clutch by scoring 10 of her 12 points in the fourth quarter to help force the overtime period.


27-3, REGION 6

To say this is nothing new for the Wesleyan girls would be a gross understatement. They have won state titles in 10 of the last 12 seasons and they are into their 13th final in the past 14 years. The Wolves have won six consecutive state championships—bookend Class AA triumphs in 2008 and 2013 and four in Class A in between. Their dynasty coincided with the 2001 arrival of head coach Jan Azar, who has more than 400 career wins and was inducted into the Gwinnett County Sports Hall of Fame in 2012. Azar appears to have another Hall of Fame team on her hands.

Wesleyan’s only two in-state losses this season have come to Holy Innocents’, an undefeated squad in Class A-Private, and Greater Atlanta Christian. The Wolves avenged the latter defeat by beating the Spartans 55-52 in the region championship. This is one of Azar’s youngest rosters, but Wesleyan always reloads as opposed to rebuilding. Among the key contributors is a freshmen trio of guard Riley Casey, guard Mikayla Coombs and forward Natalie Armstrong. One of two Wesleyan players averaging double-figures, Coombs is scoring 11.8 points per game. Point-guard duties are shared by freshman Devyn Lowe and sophomore Cairo Booker, the team’s top two assist leaders.

Azar also touts Booker as the team’s defensive leader. Experience comes in the form of senior forward Keevana Edwards and junior guard Nikki McDonald. Edwards is averaging 6.8 points and a team-high 7.3 rebounds per outing, while McDonald is recording more than 14 points and seven rebounds per game. The Wolves like to run up and down the floor and they are not afraid to use a press defense. They work an inside-outside game on offense, with Edwards looking to establish herself down low to free up outside shooters. Wesleyan has drained 161 three-pointers this season.

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