Here are some of the top boys and girls teams to watch this season.
Greenforest Christian and St. Francis are currently ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, and have won the state championship in all four years since the split between the public and private schools – Greenforest in 2013 and 2016, St. Francis in 2014 and 2015. The two teams are the odds on favorites to meet for the title again in March. Both lost big time players from last year’s teams that met in the finals (John Ogwuche and Precious Ayah of Greenforest are now at Miami-Ohio and New Hampshire, respectively, while Kobi Simmons of St. Francis is at Arizona).
Tallulah Falls is the surprise team of the season thus far. Ranked No. 9, the Indians (11-0) are in their third season under Jim Van Hooser. After going 15-61 from 2011-2014, Tallulah Falls is now 32-31 under Van Hooser. The team is led by seniors Josey Keene and Michael Van Hooser.
Calhoun County (9-0) hopes to return to its championship form of 2015 when the Cougars finished 30-2 and won the public school title. That team was senior-laden while this year’s team doesn’t have a senior on the roster. Still Calhoun County, currently ranked. No. 1, appears to be hitting on all cylinders already as illustrated by its 72-51 win over No. 8 Montgomery County (8-2) on Wednesday night.
Taylor County (7-2) hasn’t advanced past the quarterfinals since it won back to back state titles in 2001 and 2002, but the Vikings, ranked No. 3, are off to a fast start this season. They are led by senior guard John Corbin (14 points, 10 rebounds per game), senior forward Nick Jones (13 points, four rebounds) and junior forward Lyn-J Dixon (11 points, four rebounds).
Treutlen (11-0), ranked No. 5, has advanced to the semifinals for two consecutive seasons and looks primed to make it at least that far this season. The Vikings’ latest victim was Turner County, 66-65, Wednesday night in the Brewton-Parker College Classic.
Right now, Wesleyan (8-0), St. Francis (7-1) and Holy Innocents’ (7-1) are a cut above everyone else. The teams are currently ranked No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, in the private poll.
After spending the last four seasons in Class AA, Wesleyan is back to try to reclaim the strangle hold it had on Class A. The Wolves won four consecutive state titles from 2009-2012, before moving up to AA where they won the championship in 2013 and 2015, and reached the finals in 2014 and 2016.
And what was the team that defeated Wesleyan in last season’s title game? Holy Innocents’ -- avenging a loss to the Wolves in the 2015 AA final. The Bears spent 2013 and 2014 in Class A, advancing to the semifinals and finals, respectively.
Meanwhile, St. Francis has remained in the state’s smallest class and the Knights have been dominant, winning private school titles in 2013, 2015 and 2016, while advancing to the semifinals in 2014.
One team that could challenge the “Big Three” is Calvary Day (6-2) in Savannah. The Cavaliers, ranked No. 7, have advanced to at least the quarterfinals every year since 2013.
This could finally be the year Pelham (10-0) wins its first state title since 1997. The Hornets, currently ranked No. 1 in the public school poll, are a remarkable 106-10 over the last four seasons under head coach Antonia Tookes, but have not advanced to a state final in that time. However, Pelham has been dominant thus far, outscoring its opponents by an average score of 66-33.
Greenville (10-1) currently sits at No. 2 in the public school poll. The Patriots lone blemish this season was a two-point loss to Class AAA Cook County, 73-71, while they have posted wins over last season’s public school champion Turner County (81-75, in OT) and AAA Kendrick (65-50). Greenville has reached the semifinals in two of the last four seasons (2014 and 2016).
No. 3 Terrell County (6-2) should be in the mix as well. The Greenwave’s loses have been to Class AAA No. 8 Monroe (57-51) and No. 6 Taylor County (49-41), another team to look out for. The Vikings won the public school title in 2015.