The Valdosta Daily Times
The varsity basketball teams from Lowndes and Valdosta will meet for the first time this season tonight at Valdosta High School.
The games will serve as the Region 1-AAAAAA openers for both schools.
The girls’ game is set for a 6 p.m. tip-off, with the boys’ game being scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. tip.
“It doesn’t get any bigger than this,” Lowndes boys coach Kingston Clark said. “When we play (Valdosta), throw everything out the window.”
Valdosta and Lowndes are used to playing each other. Region rivals that are separated by less than 10 miles, the two teams know what to expect when playing one another. More importantly, the teams are massive rivals, with no love lost.
“I don’t think you could do anything to magnify the Lowndes-Valdosta rivalry,” Valdosta boys coach Antonio Haynes said. “The kids are excited and the fans are excited. I think it is the greatest rivalry around.”
Last year, the Valdosta boys won all four of their meetings against Lowndes, including an 80-54 drubbing in the Region 1-AAAAA tournament in Tifton. The following night, the Wildcats won the region championship with a two-point win over Tift County.
For Haynes, though, that was last year and has nothing to do with this season, or what will happen tonight.
“That is old. We threw that out of the window,” Haynes said of last season. “They are a real good team. They’re well coached. ... What we did last year was special, but it put a big target on our back.”
While the boys’ teams met four times last season, the girls met three times. Of the three meetings, Lowndes won two, including the Region 1-AAAAA championship game. In the region title game, the Vikettes overcame a 10-point fourth quarter deficit to win 50-48.
“Some of those kids were there last year,” Vikettes head coach Shan Garner said. “They know what happened. They are a prideful team. This game means a lot, especially to this community. I expect Valdosta’s best (tonight).”
Added Valdosta head coach E.A. Wilcox, of the loss in the championship game: “I mentioned it numerous amounts of time. They are sick of me talking about it. They know what is at stake (tonight). It could be a signature win for us, and a point to the region.”
The four varsity teams in action tonight have combined for a 36-10 record this season, led by the Lowndes Vikettes’ 11-2 record.
While the Vikettes ride their 11-2 record into tonight’s game, the Valdosta girls enter with an impressive 9-1 record and as winners of six straight.
During that six-game winning streak, the Valdosta girls are winning by an average of 31.8 points per game.
“I didn’t know that,” said Wilcox, when told about his team’s winning margin. “Pretty much, what is going on, we are pressing a lot and we are running the floor. Most of our points come on the fast break.
“In the half court setting, we are just playing tough defense and getting steals that way. We are getting out running because I think we have the athletes to do so.”
Tonight, the Lady Wildcats will face a Vikettes team known for playing tough defense.
“Their margin of victory has been impressive,” Garner said. “Their game plans have been very impressive. They are athletic, and they are going to pressure you. They are going to try and take you out of the game and they are going to make you handle the pressure. You have to be mentally tough. The toughest teams, mentally, usually win these games because they are always so close.”
While priding themselves on tough defense, the Vikettes have struggled offensively at times this season. They’ve scored over 60 points just once this season, but have held every opponent except for two under 50 points.
“We’ve always been a team that scores in the 50s and hold our opponents to the 30s,” Garner said. “This is my 21st meeting against (Valdosta), head-to-head, and these have been really close ball games, three or four points. That is always a concern for us — offense. But we find a way. We know they are going to key on Tashia Brown. Other people are going to have to step up and hit some shots.”
Brown is the Vikettes’ leading scorer since returning to the team in early December. Currently, Brown is averaging a double-double, leading the Vikettes to a 7-1 record since her return.
“They have those two small little guards; they are real good together,” Wilcox said of Lowndes. “But Tashia makes them go. Limiting her production is going to be tough, no matter who we put on her.”
For Valdosta, senior guard Stormm Phillips is the go-to player. Phillips has been playing against Lowndes since her freshman season, and knows what to expect in this rivalry, says Wilcox.
“(Stormm) knows from every year,” Wilcox said. “She is hungry and she is a humble kid. She wants it a lot. I have five seniors on this team and they think of this as a big-time game.”
Along with Phillips, Shaneika Smith, Tiaera Phillips, Destiny Covert and Kaneshia Kimbrough have all played big roles for the Lady Wildcats this season, while newcomer Terri Oglesby is averaging seven rebounds per game this year.
On the boys’ side, Valdosta enters tonight with a 7-3 record, which includes two wins at Tifton’s McDonald's Christmas Tournament last week. After losing to Mill Creek, 62-59, in a game where four players sat out for disciplinary reasons — Haynes said they broke team rules and that “my rules are my rules” — the Wildcats, back at full strength, beat Archer and followed it up with a win over Johnson (from Savannah).
In the 81-79 win over Johnson, Rashad Lewis scored 34 points, while Clarence Smith added 33. So far this season, Lewis and Smith have been the go-to playmakers for the ’Cats.
“When you concentrate on one, you get burned by another,” Clark said of the duo. “But it’s not just those two; You’ve had a couple of other guys lighting it up too. (Colin) Kirkpatrick is averaging like 18 points the past three games. They’re hard to defend.”
The Vikings enter tonight with a 9-4 record, and losers of two straight games over the Christmas break. Prior to the losing streak, the Vikings won eight straight games, scoring in the 70s on six occasions and in the 80s once.
In order to be successful tonight, the Vikings will rely on the play of their big three: Tremayne Tippins, Justin Williams and Eric Henderson.
“We are going to have (to play) our best game,” Clark said. “We are going to have to make sure all three of them are stepping up with big shots.”
In every game this season, either Tippins, Williams or Henderson have been the leading scorer for the Vikings.
“That is a tough task (stopping those three),” said Haynes. “It is all about preparing the kids and just getting the kids ready to go out there and compete. You can’t stop them, but you have to make it tough on them; make their shots tough and make it miserable on them.”
Like every time these two schools get together, a large, hostile crowd is expected to attend tonight’s games at Valdosta. To help prepare for the crowd, the Vikettes used loud radio music during practices.
“We tried to amp it up as high as we can. It’s hard to coach in these two games, because the kids can’t hear. The emotion is up. So we use that so they have to look at me for the signals.
“The atmosphere is huge. I hope the community shows up. Both schools are well represented this year. This region is wide open this year. We start to determine the seeding for the region tournament.”