Spurred on by a finish as the Class AAAAA state runner-up, the Lady Indians are set to finish what they started when they fell to Norcross 61-36 in last winter’s final.
Ranked second in the preseason coaches’ poll, McEachern took a big step towards its goal of making the championship game again after avenging its loss to Norcross, the preseason No. 1, with a 55-43 win Wednesday.
According to coach Phyllis Arthur, the win was an early gauge on how good the Lady Indians could be if they stay healthy and play together.
“(Norcross has) some awesome players, but I wanted our girls to remember that we’re awesome, too,” she said following the game. “For us, this game was more of a measuring stick. They’re still the two-time defending state champions, so it was important for us to play our game and find out what we need to work on and capitalize on the things we do well.”
What McEachern learned Wednesday will go a long way in determining its success this season as it competes for its first Region 4AAAAA crown since 2010 in what is arguably the best Class AAAAA region in the state. Hillgrove, Campbell and North Cobb are also ranked in the preseason top 10.
In order to get past those programs, and others, Arthur will count on her four returning starters — seniors Dominique Wilson, Pachiyaanna Roberts and Kayla Montgomery, as well as junior Mia Cooper — to lead the way. Other key role players
entering the 2011-12 season include senior Destinie Gibbs — a transfer from Southwest DeKalb — junior Joclyn Ramos, freshman Te’A Cooper and senior Mesha Morris.
Morris, Montgomery, Wilson and Roberts have been a part of the McEachern program since they were freshmen, and every year, the Lady Indians have gotten better.
“That group really has grown,” Arthur said. “I remember them as freshmen on the varsity team. They had so much success in our middle school program that they had to be humbled early when they got here. To see the transition from then to now is overwhelming. They’ve not only grown as individuals — they’ve grown as a team.”
Roberts and Montgomery make a proven frontcourt for McEachern, while Wilson and the Cooper sisters will handle the backcourt duties.
“I wouldn’t trade Dominique, and Mia and Te’A, for anything,” Arthur said. “They’re hard workers, and that’s why they are who they are. Kayla can play inside or out, although she prefers out, but I want her in because you can’t find height like that. (Roberts) can play inside or out, too, and when she wants to go to the hole, she’s unstoppable. Sometimes, I don’t think she knows how good she is or can be.”
Gibbs, who was on two Class AAAA state championship teams during their time at Southwest DeKalb, is a defensive specialist who can play inside or outside.
“She’s a leader, defensively and offensively,” Arthur said. “I wish I had more time with her. She brings a lot of heart to the team and knows what it takes to win.”
With so much senior-laden talent returning from a team that finished as the state runner-up, McEachern may be feeling the pressure that it’s now or never to win the state championship this season.
“Considering what we did last year, and what we have coming back this season, I think this is the year to get it done,” Arthur said. “But I don’t think the girls feel any pressure about it, as long as we stay calm, level-headed and focused on the game we play that day.
“As long as we do that, I expect us to win.”