Losing eight seniors from last year’s state championship team, including all five starters, may not be as damaging as Southwest DeKalb girls coach Kathy Walton first thought.
Southwest, the three-time Class AAAA state champion, beat 2010 Class AAA state champ Columbia 60-46 recently in an exhibition. Columbia lost four seniors from last year’s team, but both are expected to be state contenders again this season. Southwest DeKalb will aim for its fourth straight state title.
Walton’s lone starting senior, 6-foot-1 center Persephone Goodwin, already has signed a scholarship with South Carolina State. Junior Olivia Gibbs has an offer from Miami and leads a strong junior class.
“We’ll have a different style of play this year,” said Walton, whose team opened the season Nov. 16 against Southwest Atlanta Christian, the No. 3 team in Class A. “I think we’ll be more team oriented and we don’t have as much individual ability. Scoring will be more balanced and we’ll be different defensively.”
Walton said she expects to be able to play eight to 10 players in a game this season.
Columbia’s backcourt returns with point guard Zuri Frost and two-guard Destinee Smith. Both combined for eight steals per game and Frost averaged 12 points last season.
But Columbia and Southwest are just the beginning of the trail of girls basketball talent in the county.
Redan joins Region 6-AAAA this season after making it to the Class AAAAA state championship game last season. The Raiders had their 58-game winning streak snapped in the loss to Norcross. Kierra Page and Aneesah Daniels both return as starters after each averaged 12 points per game last season. Daniels also averaged 10.6 rebounds per game a year ago.
Six other DeKalb County teams advanced to the playoffs last season – M.L. King, Stephenson, Chamblee, Marist, Cedar Grove and Paideia.
The expansion of 6-AAAA will make things interesting as the region is subdivided – Division A features county teams Chamblee, Marist, Dunwoody, Lakeside and Tucker, as well as Class AAA runner-up Carver Atlanta. Division B includes county teams Redan, Southwest, Miller Grove and Lithonia, as well as state playoff participant Mays.
While Redan and Southwest are the early favorites in Division B, Chamblee may be the cream of the crop in Division B.
The Bulldogs return one of the best players in the state in Jasmine Camp, who has committed to Stanford. The senior guard, along with returning junior guard Lucy Mason, each averaged 13.8 points and 3.8 assists for the Bulldogs, who were 19-5 last season. Breana McDonald also is back after averaging 8.7 rebounds per game.
The Bulldogs also may have the services of three or four transfers, who are working out eligibility issues, according to coach Paul Ireland.
“I think we’ll be much better than last year,” Ireland said. “We went undefeated in a fall league at the Suwanee Sports Academy. We’ll be a guard-oriented team, play high-pressure defense and run a lot on offense.”
In Class AAAAA, M.L. King returns three players who should help the Lions compete for another playoff berth. Senior Keyona Benton averaged 13 points per game and junior Tenisha Wallace averaged 9.5 rebounds per game last season. Junior Maya Perryman averaged three steals a game.
Also, Terri Jacobs and Diamond Marchand return for Cedar Grove after leading the Saints to a 15-14 record and their most wins since 2004. Jacobs averaged 12.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game last season.