CALHOUN, Ga.-They are among the hottest girls' basketball teams in the state, yet the Calhoun Lady Yellow Jackets are on no one's radar when it comes to the Georgia Class AA playoffs, which start tonight. That's just how they like it.
The 25-3 Region 7-AA champions, who have won 21 consecutive games, host Spencer (8-19) tonight at 6. It will be the first time in 11 years a Calhoun girls' team has hosted a playoff game, and this group has no seniors.
"Last year we got put out in the first round, so not many people expected much from us this year," said sophomore 6-foot post Taylor Palmer, the team's leading scorer (14.2 per game) and rebounder (11.4). "We want to get out of the first round, and if we do, maybe we can play a long time and surprise a few people."
The team turned into a contender early in the season when coach Jerry Pruett threw out his half-court offense and decided to go to a full-court, pressing style of play that made better use of the Lady Jackets' depth and athleticism.
"Early in the season we weren't pressing as much or playing as hard," Pruett said. "I guess the best thing that happened to us was when we were embarrassed in the first half against Model [the last loss]. We had been playing more of a half-court game, and we decided to press more and run a lot more. From that point on, we've been winning.
"We needed to create turnovers and create some easier baskets. The kids started playing harder, and because we didn't have anyone who was just playing super at the time, we started playing 10-11 kids."
That rotation includes five juniors, six sophomores and two freshmen, including Palmer's 6-foot sister, Molly. The two 6-footers along with an improving set of shooters in Carly Curtis, Bre Walraven, Brittani Craig and Callie Pruett have given the Lady Jackets a very balanced offense that isn't reliant on one or two scorers.
The defense continually harasses the opposition. Calhoun has nearly 400 steals and has created more than 500 turnovers this season.
"At the beginning we couldn't get our shots to fall, so we went to a different style and it's worked great," Taylor Palmer said. "We're young, but most of us have played together for a long time, so we know each other well."
Also opening postseason play at home tonight are the undefeated (28-0) and second-ranked Dalton Lady Catamounts, who take on Washington (13-15) at 7 in a Class AAA game. Region 6-A runner-up Gordon Lee (22-6) hosts Paideia (15-12) at 7.