The teams from LaGrange and Troup have played a bunch of games, but the slate will be wiped clean when they begin Region 5-AAAA competition this weekend.
LaGrange and Troup, along with the teams from Alexander, Carrollton, Shaw, Sandy Creek Fayette County and Columbus, will kick off region play Friday night.
One of the teams hoping to get off to a fast start in region play is Troup’s boys squad, which brings a 5-4 record into Friday’s game at Alexander.
The Tigers have played in two tournaments, and they’ve also played Northside twice and Callaway twice, and they won both games against the Cavaliers.
Troup went 19-8 during the 2011-12 season with an 11-3 region record, but most of the players responsible for that success have gone, although the team has competed well in the early going.
Troup will have its hands full against an 8-2 Alexander squad.
Alexander won three games over the weekend when it captured the Allatoona holiday tournament with wins over North Clayton, Allatoona and Central Gwinnett.
Alexander finished 20-6 last season with an 11-3 region record.
The Cougars have experience returning to the squad in five seniors and four juniors, all whom were part of the 2011-12 team.
“Shaw, LaGrange, Carrollton – even Alexander seems like the teams to beat,” Troup head coach Thermond Billingslea said. “There’s not going to be any weak teams, I can tell you that, I don’t think. From top to bottom it’s going to be real strong, I think.”
Billingslea believes taking care of the basketball “is one of our main issues and another is it’s going to be hard for us to rebound. We don’t have any size. So rebounding and ball-handling is going to be key for us.”
Troup could be a little on the rusty side since its last game was on Dec. 22 against Northside, while Alexander is fresh off its tournament championship and could make things tough for Troup.
“They’re a real good team,” Billingslea said of Alexander. “They’re a good team obviously.”
LaGrange’s boys’ team heads into region play with a sterling 9-2 record, although it did lose back-to-back games in the LaGrange Toyota Basketball Classic last weekend.
Carrollton also figures to be one of the teams to beat in the region, although the Trojans suffered a major blow when senior standout Riley Criswell suffered a major knee injury during a tournament game in Florida last week.
Criswell, who had surgery this week, won’t play again this season.
“The guy chased him down from behind and took him out in mid-air and when he landed, he landed on his left leg in an awkward position,” said Carrollton head coach Tim Criswell, Riley’s father. “He had no balance. As soon as he did it, there was no doubt it was bad. It looked like (South Carolina running back) Marcus Lattimore. I thought he broke his leg, but he didn’t break a bone. I don’t know if that’s good or not. If it was broke, it might have saved some of that other stuff.”
The Trojans seemed to be hitting their stride with a 7-1 record heading into the Florida tournament, but losing one of their best players obviously hurts.
The 6-4 Shaw Raiders also are expected to be among the region’s elite teams.
“Shaw is very good,” LaGrange coach Mike Pauley said. “Their guards are back, and they’re really good.”
Sandy Creek is off to a nice start with a 4-3 record, Fayette County is 3-4, and Columbus is 3-6.
On the girls’ side, LaGrange has established itself as a team to beat with a 10-1 record.
The Lady Grangers started off with a 10-0 record before losing its first game of the season to Valley in the finals of a tournament at Auburn High on Saturday
“I feel like we haven’t peaked yet, so that’s still good for us,” LaGrange coach Jan Jones said. “Although we did take a loss Saturday, I’d rather it be Saturday than a loss in the region. That was the best team we’ve played all year. We learned a lot from it. We were right there. We had the lead most of the first half. Then we got down 10 in the third, heading into the fourth quarter. They were a little bit more experienced ball players down on the bench.”
Jones said if anything, the loss to Valley was an eye-opener and could be something her team could use to build on as Region 5-AAAA action heats up, beginning with a Friday home matchup against Shaw.
“We’ve got a tough, tough region ahead,” Jones explained. “So I was glad to have a match up like that (game against Valley) in just about every region game.”
Jones says Sandy Creek, Carrollton, Columbus and Fayette County will be the teams the Lady Grangers will likely need to beat to come out on top in the region.
Fayette County stands at 2-3 on the season and only returns a pair of seniors after graduating six seniors from its 2011-12 team that went 25-6 overall, including 11-1 region record.
Fayette captured the 3-AAAA region tournament and advanced to the third round of the state tournament before losing to Jonesboro.
Carrollton is 9-2, and Sandy Creek and Columbus are both 6-2.
“All those four (Fayette, Carrollton, Columbus, Sandy Creek) are frontrunners including us,” Jones said. “There’s going to be a really good team sitting at home come February when it comes time to go to the first round of the state. We’ve got a really strong region. Our goal is to win every game at home, we feel like if we can win every game at home, we can steal a few on the road, then we can feel like that’s good for us heading into the region tournament.”
LaGrange could be the team to beat with six seniors, five of whom are starters, including Brittany Tatum, who in December became the all-time leading scorer for the Lady Grangers.
“We’re experienced and that’s a good thing,” Jones added. “We start five seniors. We’ve got six seniors and those six girls have played together since they’ve been in middle school. I try to encourage them and I tell them, ‘this is it. This is the last time you will all play together.’ So I try to encourage them that way together, enjoy it and embrace this season. This could be a special season for us.”
LaGrange opens against Shaw, which is 0-9.
Jones said she doesn’t want to overlook anyone on the region slate, but said “we’ve focused a lot of our time on Fayette County, Carrollton, Sandy Creek and Alexander, so I don’t know a lot about them (Shaw), but that doesn’t mean we’re looking over them, because they’re always full of athletes. I do think we’ll have the edge because we’re more experienced.”
A year ago, Troup won a region championship, finished 23-6 and advanced to the state quarterfinals.
All that is nothing but a fond memory, though.
Coach Carla Thornton knew coming in this would be a rebuilding season with only a couple of role players returning from last year’s team.
Troup (0-4) has lost games to rival Callaway and Northside.
Still, the season is still early, and like everyone else, Troup has a clean slate as region play begins.
Troup opens its region schedule at Alexander Friday.
“I’m kind of looking forward to it,” Thornton said of the region opener. “We’re still young so at this time of the year, we just want to compete. I think the break has helped us to try and groom some of our younger girls. We usually like to watch a lot of film and scout other teams, but this year I’m more about what our own team is going to do and try to develop these players that I have. That’s my focus going into region, just focusing on what we do.”
Thornton knows it’ll be tough going in the region.
“It’s a very strong region this year,” Thornton said. “Like I said, LaGrange is always strong, Carrollton is strong. Alexander is in there now. I mean, it’s real tough. No nights off. It’s going to be interesting. We may not match up with everybody, but I just want to play hard and compete. Anything can happen on any given night.”
Thornton said since the last game against Northside on Dec. 22, she has been stressing defense to her team, knowing the schedule wasn’t going to be getting any easier.
“We’ve been working on our transition, offense and defense,” Thornton added. “I think that is something that can help us out a lot. That’s an area that we’ve been terrible. We try to look at the things that you’re bad at and try to correct those and look at the things you’re good at and try to get better at those. We’re still trying to find that point guard spot. I think we’re more comfortable with putting somebody in that position now than we were in the beginning.”