Jackson County will look for strong region play in rebuilding process

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Senior Victoria Fontana, a First-Team All-League Player, averaged more than 10 points a game last season and, will need to secure double-digit points in each game for JCCHS this year. For the Paper.

Reconstructing a team can be hard to do and the Jackson County Comprehensive High School girls’ basketball team is in the process of starting over after losing a strong lineup from last season.

The Panthers moved to region 3-AAA and will break into the season with a scrimmage game against Apalachee High School at AHS at 5 p.m. on Nov. 13, and will open region play against Elbert County High School in a 6 p.m. home game on Dec. 11.

Jackson County will be knocking off the rust for a little while due to the fact that none of their athletes play basketball year round. This is a team that is not expected to come out too fast, but not too slow either.

“None of our kids play basketball outside the season. Their shooting is going to improve as the year goes on,” said Head Coach John Hawley.

The reshuffled regions will present the Panthers with new teams to compete against yet the Panthers will see a couple of familiar faces from last season, including Oconee County High School.

The only team in their region from a year ago that stood in their way was North Oconee. Therefore, Jackson County will have to get adjusted to new competition but can be one of the newcomers to make a statement early on.

 “Oconee has everybody back and they have a Florida State University signee so they are a solid group. Our objective is to be one of the final four teams in the region and make it to the state tournament. We are going to have to win some region games to make that happen to put us in a good position,” said Hawley.

The Panthers went just 11-15 in the regular season, but their competition shouldn’t be fooled by their number of wins and losses. Jackson County suffered just two losses in region play and will look to match or exceed those numbers this year.

“We were 8-2 in the league. We placed second in the league last year, which was the best finish probably in 10 years. We lost our first eight games but, we lost probably 70 percent of our scoring from the year before. All of the games were really close,” said Hawley.

“It’s just a matter of us getting all the pieces together. I think we’ll always kind of start behind because I have so many kids that play softball and volleyball and that kind of thing so it kind of takes us a little longer to get all of the pieces together. We’re extremely happy with the way we finished last year,” Hawley said.

Hawley doesn’t shy away from stiffer competition. In fact, he prefers his team play tougher games in hopes of them getting stronger within their division.

“Even though our record doesn’t show it, last year we did have an outstanding year, especially in our league. We always play really tough people in the tournaments. I like to play tougher competition. I want to get the kids ready for their league play. There was only one team we didn’t beat and that was North Oconee, who won our league last year,” Hawley stated.

It’s never easy to replace veterans from the previous season, but Hawley has a group of all-stars returning that should have a great impact on the floor.

“[A couple of our] returning starters are Victoria Fontana, who played softball. [She] was a first team league player last year and she averaged about 12 points a game. We have Mason Garland back, who played softball. She [averaged] about five rebounds a game last year,” Hawley said.

“[Last but not least] is Katie Phillips, who will be in her third year starting.” She’s a post wing player. She’s one of those kids who does a little bit of everything. She’s the best defender on the floor,” said Hawley.

Last season, the Panthers nearly garnered a spot in the state tournament, but came up just one game short. However, Hawley knows he has a team of fighters who will bring their a-game this year.

“They really get after it. They are aggressive kids. They play hard. We were one game away from being in the state tournament last year,” said Hawley.

Jackson County is not a team with a lot of height, as everyone is less than 6 feet tall; however, they will look to utilize their collective talent in other ways to set the tone for their game.

“Our biggest player is 5’9. We just don’t have the size. We’re going to be an up-tempo team this year. If we have to play a half court game, it’s going to be a disadvantage for us because of our size. We need to try and create turnovers in the open court,” said Hawley.

Despite not knowing what the season holds, Hawley says he is ready to see his team take the court and fight for a top finish in their conference.

“I’m always excited. I’m a basketball junkie. I just relish all the moments that go along with the season,” said Hawley.