As the 2021-22 girls basketball season tips off, Marietta is looking to repeat last year’s success as it bids for another run at a state championship.

The Lady Blue Devils won their first title in 70 years last season, claiming the Class AAAAAAA title with a win over Woodstock, and coach Derrick DeWitt said his team is aiming to quiet the doubters again.

“The plan is to get better at what makes us successful,” DeWitt said. “Being able to improve on the defensive side of the ball, work on limiting turnovers, finishing plays and shooting a high percentage from outside is the key for us to keep the momentum going.”

Marietta’s core is going to look very different as leading scorer and court general Lauren Walker is now at Michigan State after averaging 18 points, 10.7 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.8 blocks during the Lady Blue Devils’ postseason run.

“(Walker) is irreplaceable at her height and ability, averaging 18 points and 12-plus rebounds, and that’s we have to find a way to replace,” DeWitt said. “Our goal is to get extra possessions through better defense and more of a tenacious style of offense and rebounding. We will have to consistently use these tactics this year to maintain more possession and get more shots than the other team.”

Marietta will look to senior point guard Chole Sterling to assume Walker’s leadership role. Sterling averaged 16 points, 7.2 rebounds 4.7 assist and 3.0 steals per game in her first season after moving in from Japan.

DeWitt said he has no doubt Sterling will assume the leadership role, while he is also looking on junior Makayah Harris to build on a successful offseason on both sides of the ball.

Marietta will open the new season ranked No. 2 in Class AAAAAAA, one spot behind county rival Campbell.

The Lady Spartans finished second behind McEachern in Region 2AAAAAAA last season and advanced to the second round of the playoffs. They will look to continue last year’s growth with a roster of returning seniors Laila Battle, Sarah Taub, Nia Bozeman, Chelsea Lewis, Jaida Fitzgerald, Cheyenne Clark and McKenzie Nicholson.

McEachern went 19-5 last season, making a deep playoff run before ultimately losing to Marietta in the state semifinals. The Lady Indians will need to play to their strengths by utilizing senior guards Caelan Ellis and Kristen Roche if they hope to make another postseason run.

McEachern will also have to find a way to replace the production of Gatorade All-American Jillian Hollingshead, who now at Georgia.

In Region 3AAAAAAA, Harrison will need to show an aggressive front on defense if it hopes to not go out in the first round, like it did last season against Campbell. The Lady Hoyas’ chemistry and athleticism is going to be the key as they also welcome back sharp-shooting forward Anna Gernatt, who missed the 2020-21 season because of injury.

Kell won the Region 6AAAAAA title behind point guard junior Crystal Henderson, who averaged 20.2 points, 5.9 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game. The Lady Longhorns will also see the return of key players Amaya Moss, Jada Green and Jada Peterson on a team that went 25-4 and advanced to the state quarterfinals before being upended by eventual state champion Westlake.

New Kell coach Kandra Bailey, who took over for Tony Ingle Jr. after the latter accepted a job in Utah, said the team got together to create goals for this season, and the common goal is to play basketball in March.

“In order for us to get where we want to go, we have to come out aggressive and continue the momentum once we have it,” Bailey said.

Sprayberry, which finished second in Region 6AAAAAA and advanced to the second round of the playoffs, is led by senior point guard Flau’jae Johnson, who recently signed with LSU. Johnson has all eyes on her as she has been ranked the 26th-best point guard in the country by ESPN after averaging 28 points, 7.8 rebounds and five assists last season.

“(Johnson) is the best player I have ever coached and ever seen play the game,” Sprayberry coach Kellie Avery said. “I am not surprised at all the accolades she has received. People don’t realize how hard she works — comes in at 6 a.m. to practice, does after-school practice with the team, and then works with personal trainers. She is always grinding to perfect her game. She is going to do Flau’jae. We, as a team, when we face these better teams, we have to utilize the continuous offense we have been working on. That involves Flau’jae coming off the ball so teams can’t just key on her.”

Mount Paran Christian won Region 7A Private and advanced to the second round of the state playoffs. The Lady Eagles will look to returning guards Kara Dunn and Katelyn Dunning to use their experience to make an impact on the floor. Newcomers Jessica Fields and Jacalyn Myrthil also expected to make a huge impact on the floor.

“I feel this year, for us to be successful, we are going to have to play to our strengths, and that is experience,” Mount Paran coach Stephanie Dunn said. “The team is very versatile and able to work together for the common goal and that is to get to the basket. We have a group of veterans and newcomers that I feel will add depth to the roster. If we stay focused, we can make it to where we were last year, and this time win it all.”

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