VALDOSTA -- Lowndes High's new girls basketball coach won't have to worry about moving into a new house. Only a new school and a new program.

Lowndes hired Shan Garner, the boys basketball coach at Echols County, to take over its girls program next season.

"This is awesome. This is the ultimate opportunity for me, and I am thankful for it," Garner said. "This is a first-rate program. The academics and the athletics here are second to none."

"We're excited about the two coaches we've hired tonight," said Lowndes High principal Wes Taylor about Garner and new boys coach Rob Williams. "We feel like we've got two outstanding men who are going to do well here."

While he'll go from a high school of around 180 students to a school of nearly 3,000, and from a boys team to a girls team, the goal for Garner will be the same: winning.

"There's a great tradition here, and we want to continue that," Garner said. "The school's motto is 'From good to great.' I'd like to do that with this team.

"I'm crazy about basketball. If the girls are half as enthusiastic about basketball as I am, we're going to be all right."

The girls basketball program is the most successful athletic program at Lowndes, with four state championships and four national championships in the late 1970s. More recently, the Vikettes won four straight region titles from 1999-2003.

"The coaches that have been here before me, I'm not sure I belong in that group," Garner said, respectfully. "They've had a lot of success here, and there's a lot of tradition."

Despite his excitement about taking over the Vikettes, leaving his alma mater and a program he coached to the state playoffs for the first time in 20 years last season will be very hard for Garner.

"It's tough for me to leave Echols County," Garner said. "When I played there, we had subpar teams. When I became coach, I wanted to change that. I felt that we were building a winning program. We were 19-9 last season, finished second in the region, and we had five of our main players coming back next year. So it's hard for me to leave that behind. I hope the next coach will do well with that team."

Garner doesn't see a big problem going from a boys team to a girls team.

"There some difference, but not that much," he said. "Fundamentals are fundamentals, hard work is hard work. It has no gender."

Garner is an Echols County native, but already lives in Lowndes County. His wife Maria has taught in the Lowndes County school system for several years, and Garner himself taught in the system from 1997-2002. The Garners have two children, Gabby, 4, and Grant, 2.

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