It is a well-known fact that losing a team leader and leading scorer can be a significant blow to any program as it enters region play.
The team must find a way to fill the void, account for the lost energy and ignore the distractions that come with losing a teammate to an injury. But the resilience displayed by the top-ranked Greater Atlanta Christian girls basketball team has been compared, by its coach, to teams overcoming big-time losses in professional sports.
In December, GAC lost Robyn Benton to an ACL injury. She was the heart of the team.
“The Knicks couldn’t win when Patrick (Ewing) went down with his Achilles injury," said GAC coach Lady Grooms. "San Antonio is my favorite pro team, but they will struggle without (Kawhi) Leonard. Coach Gregg Popovich with make sure they compete and (Manu) Ginobili will give it his all, but it’s no Leonard. We don’t have someone that leads in every category besides rebounding, like Robyn did, even though she averaged eight rebounds per game. We will struggle without her. Who wouldn’t?”
But Grooms also knows that it takes more than one spoke to turn the wagon wheel, and as the season progresses from holiday tournaments to region tournaments, she has seen her team grow up to fill Benton’s shoes.
The Lady Spartans (15-3, 8-0) are ranked at the top of the standings and have not lost a game since losing to Male from Kentucky on Dec. 30 in the same Naples Tournament in which Benton was injured. The six-game winning streak padded GAC’s region record to 8-0 and puts the Lady Spartans alone at the top of the Region 7 standings, ahead of East Hall (5-2).
“We are tough and resilient," Grooms said. "We have three seniors who won’t let down. Taylor Sutton may be our most valuable player. She has stepped up big-time. Caria Reynolds and Mary Martha are moving ahead, but now it’s Taylor’s team and she is leading.”
Sutton, a 5-foot-6 senior who averages 17 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 3.2 steals per game, has had her three highest-scoring games this season since Benton’s injury. Against North Hall on Jan. 12, Sutton scored a season-high 32 points on 12-of-26 shooting. On Jan. 2 against Lumpkin, she had 25 points, and on Jan. 19 vs. Union County she scored 24.
As a result, the goals for the Lady Spartans have not changed, and region- and state-title runs remain the focus. And now, with added drive to win for their injured teammate, the Lady Spartans have laser focus. As Grooms describes it: A new mojo.
“I️ still feel like we will win the region and contend for a state run,” she said. “They are playing for Robyn, who fought hard for this team. They want to win it for her and to prove they are the best. I️ personally believe, but it won’t be easy. We will have to come together tighter than ever and fight for every possession, at every practice. ... I️ have seen a big change, and it has been so emotional watching. I️ look forward to the next two months.”