The new year got off to an inauspicious start for the Monroe Area basketball programs.
For the boys, they’ve survived and thrived. For the girls, they are barely hanging on.
In the first boys game of 2021 against East Hall, senior point guard Randy Jones broke his leg. He still managed to finish that game, a 69-27 win, and the next, an 88-50 loss to second-ranked Hart County.
“We just through it might be a bad sprain or something,” said second year Hurricanes head coach Kevin Strickland. “Turns out it was a broken tibia.”
With his offensive spark plug and team leader facing an extended absence, things suddenly looked bleak for a run at a region title and state playoff berth.
But fate intervened for Monroe. On the same day Jones broke his leg, senior Zavius Williams became eligible to play. Since he stepped in for Jones, the Hurricanes have won five of six, giving them some much-need momentum heading into the most pivotal week of the season.
Currently tied for second place in 8-AAA with Oconee County, Monroe (11-7 overall, 2-1 region) will host the Warriors on Tuesday followed by a rematch with first-place Hart County on Friday.
“It’s huge,” said Strickland of the upcoming week. “We could lock down a playoff berth with at least one win.”
Although the Hurricanes will still have four games on the schedule after next week, a victory over Oconee would most likely secure second place in the league, assuring a state berth and home playoff game in the first round.
And if history repeats itself — last year, the Hurricanes lost to Hart twice in the regular season before upsetting them in the region tournament — Monroe could find itself with a top seed in the state tournament.
It’s not a long-shot scenario, considering the Hurricanes appear to be peaking at the perfect moment.
“I think we’re our best selves at just the right time,” Strickland said.
Certainly, the emergence of Williams at point guard has been important. He’s averaging 11 points a game.
“Zae has really stepped in and done a great job,” Strickland said. “It’s going to give us more depth and make us that much stronger when Randy makes it back.”
Jones is expected to return in time for the region tournament.
But the biggest difference maker has been senior forward Derrick Brown. During the current four-game winning streak, he’s averaged 24 points a game, including shooting 40% from 3-point range, and pulling down 10 rebounds a game.
“He’s just been unstoppable for us,” Strickland said.
Complementing Brown in the front court has been sophomore post Damerion Whitner. He’s scoring 8 a game but doing his best work on defense and on the boards. He recorded 16 rebounds in last Tuesday’s win over East Jackson.
“I feel really good about our chances right now,” Strickland said.
As for the girls, the Lady Hurricanes are in limbo after a COVID-19 outbreak hit the team shortly after the Christmas break. As a result, they haven’t played since a 55-41 loss to Roswell in a holiday tournament on Dec. 30.
Many of the players have been reluctant to return and, as a result, head coach Breda Hill-Gilmore hasn’t had enough players to field a team.
The girls have yet to play a region game and are 2-8 overall. According to athletics director Eli Connell, the school is closely monitoring the situation and no decision has been made whether to continue the season.