And it could have been an even sweeter year for the county’s other three teams had they managed some very timely runs in their respective regions.
The Lady Purple Hurricanes once again enjoyed the richest success from a standpoint of advancing in the playoffs.
The Lady Canes earned a 14-0 record in Region 5-AAA as the foundation for an impressive 22-5 overall record.
Also turning a lot of basketball heads was Woodland, whose team won its first regular season subregion championship with a 13-3 record, the solid foundation upon which it built its 18-8 overall record.
Adairsville finished with a 13-10 overall record, going 10-4 in its region, and it was a victory away from a playoff spot.
Cass chalked up an 11-14 record overall and was 2-6 in its region. A win streak in its region would have pushed the Lady Colonels into the playoffs, not a bad finish considering the number of starters they lost in a year that was defined by its attrition in the ranks of talented players.
Although Excel Christian Academy was 7-17 overall, it was 5-7 in Region 6A-A, with two of those losses coming to eventual private school state champion Southwest Atlanta Christian. A modest win streak against the right region foes would have had the Lady Eagles packing for a state playoff trip.
The key to the Bartow County success rested on having a lot of talented players and how well they fit into the team concept favored by their coaches.
Player of the Year
Nowhere would the term talented player fit better than when describing Kaelyn Irby, Cartersville’s all-state guard, who has been wowing basketball fans for all four of her high school years at the school.
That was especially true the past season when Irby led her team and county in most statistical categories as well as on the court.
Irby scored an average of 17 points while dishing out seven assists, stealing four balls and grabbing five rebounds for Cartersville. She was named Region 5-AAA Player of the Year and Northwest Georgia Tip Off Club Player of the Year.
Throughout her high school career at Cartersville, she scored 1,597 points.
Cindy Moore, her coach, sees Irby as a complete player who lifts the play of her teammates and who can shut down an opponent.
“She obviously has the ability at any given moment to take over a game with her quickness and her intensity,” Moore said earlier.
The coach credits her ability to find the open player as her best talent.
“A lot of the time they don’t even know they’re open,” Moore has said. “That is just a gift.
“Some people are writers ... She has the gift of being able to run the floor and it’s a work of art and it’s fun to watch.”
Cartersville had more than its share of challenges this season.
The team found itself wearing a target for region opponents, whether it was the intense play it often faced or the foul trouble that its players sometimes found themselves in.
One of the big answers all season was Morgan Jones, one of the team’s aggressive post players who kept opposing teams occupied when she took a quick pass from a teammate and moved quickly in search of an open spot in the paint area.
Morgan mined the middle for 12 points per outing while snatching an average seven rebounds per game.
When it came to post players, Cartersville was able to double the trouble for opponents because of the power of its twins.
Maya Jones, Morgan’s twin, was particularly effective at keeping opponents busy down in the paint as she stacked up points with a little help from the glass.
Maya Jones averaged eight points per outing as well as five rebounds, the numbers so high opponents could not safely ignore Cartersville’s lethal scoring threat and extraordinary rebounding power. The post player’s success also split defensive efforts between herself and Morgan while enhancing the ability of Cartersville’s guards to find a clear shot when trying to send the mail from downtown.
Adairsville’s Stephanie Kuhrt was a big part of the reason her team had such an impressive season.
The Lady Tigers, who took a big step up in their relative region strength, were able to pick up a split with state power Sonoraville and challenge Cartersville in their two matchups.
Meredith Barnhill, her coach, called Kuhrt “an all-around leader on the floor.”
She said Kuhrt, who was named to the all-region 5-AAA team after averaging 14 points and four rebounds per outing, was a student of the game.
“She improved her game from her junior season to senior season by adding a consistent 3-point shot,” Barnhill said. “It was very hard for defenses to match up against her.”
Teams that played against Adairsville found the Lady Tigers were blessed with multiple scoring threats.
Mallorie Collum, a four-year member of the varsity like Kuhrt, took the fight to opponents as she found ways to drop points on opponents with a slashing inside game and from the outside as well.
The senior averaged 12 points per game as she continued to find ways to lift her team to victory in a tough region.
She also was an effective rebounder, grabbing an average of five per outing.
Collum also passed a milestone as a Lady Tiger, scoring 1,000 points during her high school career.
Cass learned a lot about change this season as the Lady Colonels lost their three leading scorers at different points.
One thing that remained the same was the determined play of Rejiyah Burley whether she was the point guard — which is how she started the season — or if she took the action inside.
Burley averaged 14.5 points during the season — the second-highest total in the county this year — while she grabbed five rebounds and was successful about one and a half times in stealing per outing.
“She was one of the more dynamic scorers in the county this year,” Jamie Horton, her coach, said. “She worked to make herself better in the offseason. She got really good at putting the ball in her left hand and taking it to the rim. She could go right, too. She shot pretty well, too. She was a threat from inside and outside.
“She started the year as a point and we moved her to the wing once some of the younger kids came around.”
Horton said she also was quick on her feet.
“We put her in so many positions,” he said. “Anything we asked, she was willing to do. If you drew something for her, she could do that. She also had a good first and second step and was very physical.”
The Lady Colonels also leaned heavily on the play of Ashley Huskins, who usually played post but also made the rounds in terms of playing different positions.
Huskins averaged 11 rebounds — the highest in the county — and dropped in 6.8 points. She also tallied 1.5 blocks for her team.
“She played guard, played post and just anywhere we put her on the court,” Horton said. “She also was a good 3-point shooter.”
The coach also liked her defensive play.
“She could guard their guards and post players for us,” he said. “She could take them away from their game.”
Junior Andrea Taylor help Excel Christian Academy transition from a very young team making its share of mistakes to one that challenged its opponents and often threatened to snatch away a victory.
Eric Harris, her coach, paid her the ultimate compliment by saying, “She makes everyone around her better.”
The coach described the point guard as “a leader who plays hard every time she steps on the court. Having a point guard like Andrea makes my job a lot easier.”
Taylor also had some impressive stats, as she scored 13 points, grabbed 5.3 rebounds, registered 3.1 steals and dished out 3.6 assists per game.
Excel senior Bekah Bell was “solid all year long,” coach Harris said. “She always came through in clutch situations.
“She started every game and had to play three positions.”
Bell not only was effective as a player but she also provided a steadying hand for a very young team.
She scored 7.5 points per game, grabbed 3.4 rebounds, was credited with 1.4 steals and distributed 2.6 assists per game.
She regularly got a turn as point guard as well when the situation called for that.
Woodland’s Katie Harris was the leading scorer on a team that emphasized team play.
“Every player was expected to defend, rebound and share the ball on offense,” Kyle Morgan, head coach, said. “Our individual stats aren’t as impressive as our team stats.”
Still, Harris put up some good numbers for the Lady Wildcats. She averaged 11 points, dropped in 38 3-pointers, hit 73 percent of her foul shots (84-of-115) had two assists, four rebounds and 1.5 steals per game.
“Harris played very hard on both ends of the floor,” Morgan said. “She was an outstanding shooter [who] got better as the season progressed.”
One of the keys to Woodland’s success this season was its defensive play.
Marissa Dubose was a big part of that success because she interrupted the offensive flow inside and gave opponents more to think about than just hoisting the ball up.
Morgan said she made her presence felt in a lot of areas.
Among the things she did well was to average eight rebounds (for a total of 230) and eight points per game. She also managed 1.5 blocks, 1.5 assists and 1.5 steals per game.
The defensive stalwart also drew six charges.
“She was a very unselfish player,” the coach said. “She was long and athletic. She was a multi-talented player who did a lot of things well on the floor.”
Brooke Hummel did many of the little things that add up to big success on a basketball court without appearing in the box scores, her coach said.
“She set the tone for our defense by always guarding other teams’ best ball handler and getting the ball and pushing it up the floor for us on offense,” according to Morgan. “She was a very selfless player on both ends of floor.”
Hummel averaged five points per game and sank 60 percent of her free throws. She also grabbed three rebounds, distributed one assist and averaged two steals.
Honorable mention: Adairsville: Julia Roberson; Cartersville: Hallie Wachsmuth, Kimora McClinic; Cass: Jana Mourning, Hannah Kirkpatrick, Kelsey Wright; Excel: Lexie Robinson, Lindsey Mauldin; Woodland: Sydney Boyd and Aubri Branch.