When George Walton Academy girls basketball coach Lori Hines last walked off the basketball court, her team has just suffered the worst loss in the final game of the worst season in her long tenure at the helm of the Lady Bulldogs program.
GWA fell by 70 points to top-ranked Hebron Christian, ending the year at 9-15 and missing the state playoffs for the first time in eight winters.
When her team plays its home and season opener on Dec. 4 against Providence Christian, Hines is hopeful it’ll mark the return to normalcy.
Although disappointing, last year’s outcome wasn’t surprising. The Lady Bulldogs roster featured just three seniors — only one with extensive experience — and a host of wide-eyed underclassmen.
On paper, things don’t look much better this season. Marnie Couch is the only 12th grader. The rest of the team is comprised of four juniors, three sophomores and five freshmen.
But the biggest difference is experience. Most of the returners got extensive playing time, and the ninth graders were part of a championship middle school team.
“I feel like I’ll be able to put five people out there and have some come behind them who can play with confidence,” Hines said. “I didn’t have that last year.”
What she did have was an outstanding point guard who is another year older and much improved.
Elizabeth Jahns ran the team as a point guard and led in scoring with 8 points a game as a freshman.
“It was tough on her to try and be a leader and run the offense as a freshman,” Hines said. “But she’s a year older now and has a season behind her, so that part will be easier for her.”
Joining her in the backcourt will be Hannah McDonel, who’s a solid outside shooter.
But it’s the front court that has Hines most excited. For the first time in at least five years, the Lady Bulldogs will have some bulk near the basket.
“We’re actually kind of big this year,” Hines said. “I haven’t had that in a while.”
Manning the post will be Caroline Conner, a 6-foot-1 junior who’s both strong and agile with a nice shooting touch. She was second on the team in free throw percentage last fall.
At power forward will be Couch, who was second on the team in scoring.
“She’s really strong and tough to defend when she gets rolling toward the basket,” Hine said.
As for getting back to the playoffs, the Lady Bulldogs should have a much easier path. Gone from the region is defending state champ Hebron Christian. Only five basketball playing schools remain and GWA need only finish among the top four.