Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips. Wesleyan's Grace Leah Baughn (4) is tripped up by Hoover's Kayla Anderson (11) as she drives towards the basket on Saturday.
ATLANTA — The Wesleyan girls may have only one senior, but don’t be deceived.
Even by the Wolves’ lofty standards, this team appears primed to have a banner season.
“We don’t like to compare teams,” said coach Jan Azar, who has led Wesleyan to seven state titles in the past nine seasons. “But I think this group has the potential to be something special.”
The Wolves showed that Saturday, edging defending Alabama Class AAAAAA state champion Hoover 47-46 on Saturday in Peach State Basketball’s Battle of the Southeast at St. Pius.
Hoover (6-2) was ranked No. 10 nationally by USA Today going into the season and is from Alabama’s largest classification. But the Wolves (6-0) jumped to a 10-2 lead, led by eight again as late as the third quarter and then held on for the impressive victory.
“That was a very good team we beat,” Azar said of Hoover. “You play games like this to get ready for the postseason and help your players get better. You gain a lot both ways from playing top competition.”
The Wolves belied their youth in the closing minutes against Hoover. After Grace Leah Baughn — the team’s lone senior — made two free throws for a three-point lead, Hoover cut it back to one point on a basket by Nicole Tanner inside the final minute. But Wesleyan froze off most of the rest of game, giving Hoover the chance for only a desperation heave at the buzzer.
It wasn’t an artistic effort by the Wolves, who have won two straight Class A titles after winning Class AA in 2008. Just gritty.
Wesleyan showed its depth, junior guard Jordan Frazier the only double-figure scorer with 12 points. Baughn, a steadying influence, had nine points and five rebounds. Katie Frerking, a sophomore coming back from knee surgery a year ago, was the leading rebounder for the Wolves with seven.
“Our depth will help us even more when we stop fouling so much,” said Azar, who constantly moved players in and out against Hoover.
Hoover shot 24 free throws, but hit just half of them. Wesleyan was 12-for-14, with Frazier going 6-for-6.
Wesleyan has knocked off higher-ranked teams, beating No. 2 Brea Olinda of California two years ago at the Nike Tournament of Champions in Arizona. But beating Hoover was certainly a signature victory.
Bucs juniors Chardonae Fuqua and Nicole Tanner have committed to SEC schools, with Fuqua headed to LSU and Tanner headed to Auburn. But they had just 10 points combined against Wesleyan. Kayla Anderson scored 16 to lead Hoover against the Wolves, ranked No. 1 as usually in Class A.
Wesleyan scored an impressive 71-47 victory at Mill Creek, ranked No. 5 in Class AAAAA, on Friday and followed that up with the upset of Hoover.
The Wolves will be in the national spotlight again just before Christmas, competing along with Class AAAAA defending state champion Norcross in the Crescent Bank Invitational at Myrtle Beach.
But the game against Hoover allowed Wesleyan to stay close to home and still get a national victory. In fact, Azar is very familiar with the gym at St. Pius. “This is where I went to school,” she said.