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Armstrong leads Wolves back to top of mountain

NORCROSS - Anne Marie Armstrong knows all about big expectations.

But even greater than the success that has come to be a given during her years in the Wesleyan girls basketball program is what she expects of herself and her teammates.

"Her goal when she came (to the high school level at Wesleyan) was to win 10 (state championship) rings before she graduated," Wolves coach Jan Azar said of her junior wing player. "If she gets one more this year in track and three more next year, she'll meet that goal."

For the ordinary athlete, that goal might seem a bit too lofty, though the 6-foot-2 Armstrong is well on her way with her prowess as a three-sport star in basketball, track and volleyball at Wesleyan.

But it is on the basketball court where she has had the most success - and where she expects the most of herself.

And it is there Armstrong gave it her all in helping the Wolves to yet another Class AA state championship this season. Her major role in that title made her the Daily Post's Girls Basketball Player of the Year.

Her team-high averages of 19.2 points (which tied her with Mill Creek's Porsha Porter for tops among all Gwinnett County players), 8.2 rebounds (fourth in the county), 3.7 assists and 2.4 blocks per game helped propel Wesleyan back to the state title after finishing as runner-up to Greater Atlanta Christian last season.

However, Azar believes her unflappable makeup played as big a role in the team's success.

"It's nice what she does on the court," Azar said. "But the biggest things with Anne Marie is how humble she is, especially with someone who's as good as she is. The good thing about her is she's grateful to play with other such great players."

Indeed, Armstrong says her friendship with her teammates helped the whole team deal with a feeling not many Wesleyan teams have had coming into the season.

After having a run of three straight state titles broken last year, the Wolves weren't used to coming into a season without a championship to defend.

And added to the pressure of getting back to a championship level was the fact Armstrong had a target on her back - not only from opponents who knew her skills, but from her team and herself to be more of a leader this season after being one of the few players who received a lot of playing time last season.

"Last year, we lost a lot of seniors," Armstrong said. "So, this year, there was a lot more pressure on younger players. Me and (Azar) had a meeting before the season and she said I'd have to be one of the leaders this year. It didn't really phase me or make me nervous, but I knew I had to step up."

And with more than a little help from her friends, Armstrong stepped up to fill her role to a T and lead the Wolves to their fifth state championship in the last seven seasons.

But with that success comes even higher expectations for her senior season.

Her versatility has made her not only one of the best post players in Georgia, but she also possesses ball handling and shooting skills that make her perhaps even more dangerous on the perimeter.

"When I was about 9, 10 or 11, I was really little, so I played a lot of guard," said Armstrong, who also finished second on the team with 3.5 steals per game. "When I started getting taller around eighth grade, I started playing more at the post."

That versatility has also made her one of the most sought-after juniors in all of Georgia, which could trigger a recruiting war among the nation's top college programs that could rival the frenzy created a year ago in the pursuit of former Collins Hill star Maya Moore, who wound up at Connecticut.

Combined with another team state championship to defend, the pressure on Armstrong next year will be tremendous.

However, Azar is confident she will be able to handle such scrutiny.

"She grew up a lot this year," Azar said. "She's an incredible basketball player. She's fun to watch, very humble. She certainly makes my life a lot easier."

And while Azar believes the comparison of Armstrong to Moore are a bit much, there is one feat she would like to see her player match the Big East's Player of the Year.

"This year, Anne Marie was able to get over the rim," Azar joked. "Next season, I'm hoping I can say I saw her dunk in a game like Maya did."

SideBar:

Player of the Year: Anne Marie Armstrong, Wesleyan, Jr.

Averaged 19.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 3.5 steals, 2.4 blocked shots for Class AA state champions

Coach of the Year: Jeremy Huckaby, Duluth

Led Wildcats to Class AAAAA Final Four, first state tournament appearance since 1976

First Team

Tiffany Clarke, Norcross, Jr.

16.8 points, 10.4 rebounds

Dria David, Central Gwinnett, Jr.

13.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists

Porsha Porter, Mill Creek, Sr.

19.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists

Tyra Smith, Berkmar, Jr.

15.4 points, 3.7 assists

Mykala Walker, Duluth, Jr.

15.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists

Second Team

Sczeny Hartry, Parkview, Sr.

12.7 points, 3.7 assists, 2.7 steals

Briana Jordan, GAC, Soph.

14.7 points, 3.3 assists, 3.7 steals

Courtney McLane, Brookwood, Sr.

16.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.5 steals

Jasmine Scott, Central Gwinnett, Sr.

13.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists

Moneshia Simmons, Mill Creek, Soph.

12.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists