Future remains bright for Lady Hawks
by Doug Gorman
The Heritage School girls basketball team came just two victories short of a GISA Class AAA basketball championship, but head coach Derrick Clay feels there's several reasons to embrace the program's future.
Next year's returners are a big reason.
Despite falling to top-ranked Stratford Academy 50-28 Friday at Mercer during the program's f i rst trip to the state semifinals, the majority of contributors from a 25-4 season expect to return in 2014-15.
They include sharpshooter Lillie Smith, who will head into her senior year after missing for a small stretch in January.
Smith drilled a 3-pointer to cut Stratford's lead to one before the Lady Eagles closed out the game, turning a close contest into a double-digit victory.
Freshmen siblings Karlee and Kara Groover immediately translated their talents to the varsity level after helping lead Madras to a middle school championship as eighth graders. Maggie Crosby and Ruthie Powell will also be back for their senior year among a group of nine returners from this year's lineup.
The Lady Eagles, who played Bulloch Academy in Saturday's championship game in Macon, handed Heritage two of its four losses. The school, however, is headed to the GHSA play starting in the fall, opening up a potential avenue to the finals next season.
The GISA will move to just two classifications, named AA and AAA, starting with the 2014-15 school year.
This season will remembered, though, as a year of accomplishments for the Lady Hawks who went undefeated in Region 1-AAA and captured a region title for just the second time in the school's 40 year history.
It was also the first ever trip to the Final Four, but Clay predicts it won't be the last.
'We really laid the groundwork this year,' he said. 'It's disappointing to see it end the way it did, but I am so proud of this team. Everybody knew their roles.'
Clay knows his four seniors - Ansley Dieckmann, Abbie Farr, Amanda Windom and Kaytlin Squires - were a huge part of returning the team to a winning program.
'I told my seniors they will always be a part of my life,' he said. 'I told them I hope I can coach their daughters someday at Heritage.'
After losing twice in early January, including the first time to Stratford, the Lady Hawks peaked at the right time, rolling off 17 wins in a row, including beating Holy Spirit in the Region 1-AAA title game.
The Lady Hawks rattled off playoff wins against Mount De Sales and Southland in the first two rounds of the state tournament en route to setting up their contest with topranked Stratford in Friday's showdown.
One thing won't that won't change next year is the value the Lady Hawks put on defense. Heritage has held 15 opponents under 30 points, and five to 10 points or less.
'We are going to keep stressing the importance of defense,' Clay said. 'Offensively, we want to do a better job shooting from the outside, but we know if we can play good defense that is going to help us win games.'