The Wolfpack will make their third state championship appearance in four years when they take on Athens Christian today at 12:45 p.m. at the Macon Centreplex.
Whitefield returns to the state finals for the first time since losing to Wesleyan in 2010, and it will try to claim its third state crown and first since 2009.
It’s also the seventh state finals appearance in the 12-year history of the Wolfpack program.
For Whitefield coach Tyrone Johnson, this latest trip to the state finals has been far from easy, but he said that his team has met the challenge successfully.
“Each trip (to the state finals) has its challenges, and there hasn’t been anything different this time in that regard,” Johnson said. “We have faced some challenges, but the kids have grown through the process.”
Region 9A champion Whitefield (28-3) advanced to the state finals with a 75-62 win over Lanier County in Wednesday’s semifinal. The Wolfpack also beat Hebron Christian, St. Francis and Aquinas on their way to the finals.
With the exception of the Lanier County game, Johnson said things have gone relatively smoothly in the state tournament so far.
“We played well, except for (the semifinal game) Wednesday,” Johnson said. “We didn’t play well against Lanier County. They are a very physical team. We play physical, too, but they were very physical. But it gave us an opportunity to grow. Each game presents a different challenge and an opportunity for us to grow. I like the position that we are in. Our guys understand their roles and what they need to do, so we’re ready.”
Senior Kenny Gaines, a Georgia signee, will lead the way for Whitefield, with Jordan Coar, Eric Lockett and Lorenzo Carter among the other key players.
Whitefield will play an Athens Christian team that it beat 90-55 in the second round of the state tournament last year.
However, bolstered by the addition of freshman point guard Will Jackson, the Region 8A champion Eagles have improved from last year’s 20-7 record to 30-2 this season.
Athens Christian also has some size up front, with 6-8 center Zach Lillie manning the middle.
“They are a much better team than last year,” Johnson said. “You don’t make it to the state championship without being very good. Their 6-4 freshman (Jackson) is a very good point guard. He’s considered to be one of the best point guards in the state, regardless of classification. Zach Lillie is a better player than he was last year. Though we played them in the state tournament last year, we haven’t seen a lot of them, but I’ve been keeping up with them and I’m very impressed with them.”
For Johnson, rebounding and defense are the most important keys for his team.
“No. 1, we need to dominate the glass, offensively and defensively,” he said. “No. 2, we need to defend the ball better. We’re not playing defense like we should. We just need to execute.”