Valdosta Daily Times

February 26, 2013

Lady ’Cats in Elite 8

Valdosta plays Hughes in quarterfinals today

Christian Malone
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — The Valdosta High girls basketball team is in the midst of one of its best seasons ever.

The Lady Wildcats are 23-5, and are playing in the state quarterfinals for the first time in 12 years. They will face Langston Hughes (25-2) in the quarterfinals today at 6 p.m. in Fairburn, a city in southwest metro Atlanta.

“I’m very proud of them,” Lady Wildcats head coach E.A. Wilcox said. “(The Valdosta girls) haven’t gone to the Elite Eight since 2001. I’m proud (that we’ve made it back). I can’t explain how much it means to me and to them to be in this position.”

It has been a good year, but Wilcox wants to go further.

“I want it badly for them, to win,” Wilcox said. “It feels good to be in the Elite Eight, but it would sure feel better to be in the Final Four, especially with this group of girls that have really worked hard.”

Over the last four years, Wilcox has built the Valdosta girls basketball team back into a strong program. The Lady Wildcats had a good run from 1998-2003, making the state playoffs six straight seasons. The 2000-01 Lady Wildcats won the region title and made it all the way to the semifinals of the state tournament, and the 2001-02 Valdosta girls won the regular season region title. But after making the playoffs in 2003, the Lady ’Cats went seven straight seasons without making the playoffs from 2004-10.

Under Wilcox, the Valdosta girls have become a perennial playoff team again. He became the Lady Wildcats’ head coach in 2009-10, and in his first season, the team went 16-8 (after going 9-14 the previous year). The next season, they went 18-11 and made it to the region championship game, then they advanced to the second round of the state playoffs. Last year, they were 19-7 and once again finished second in the region and made the second round of the playoffs.

This year has been even better. The Lady Wildcats started the season 15-1, and had a 12-game winning streak. They had a rough stretch where they went 1-3, but are 7-1 since then. They won the regular season region title and made it back to the region championship game (before losing to Tift County, which is also in the quarterfinals). Valdosta beat Hillgrove 58-51 in the first round of the playoffs and Alcovy 44-42 in the second round.

“It’s not about something I’ve done. It’s more about what (these players) have done,” Wilcox said.

All five of Valdosta’s seniors — Stormm Phillips, Shaneika Smith, Taylor Hauser, Kaneshia Kimbrough and Terri Oglesby — play key roles for the Lady Wildcats. But they also rely on several underclassmen, including junior Destiny Covert and sophomores LeQuesha Newkirk, Tiaera Phillips, Tatyanna Randall and Courtney Baker. Chloe Scott, Deja Austin and Shyla Griffin have also gotten some playing time this year.

VHS has a couple of players who are banged up, but no players are expected to miss tonight’s game.

Valdosta traveled to metro Atlanta after practice on Monday. The team will practice at another school today, then will head to Langston Hughes later this afternoon for the game.

Langston Hughes is 25-2 this season. The Panthers won the Region 3-6A championship. In their first two playoff games, they defeated Luella (49-38) and Colquitt County (59-52).

“They’ve got a (player who) shoots the ball real well. They’ve got small, faster guards that play a ton of defense. They beat our No. 3 team (Colquitt) by seven,” Wilcox said.