Staff Photo: John Bohn Greater Atlanta Christian's Sierra Lawrence (23) defends against Mill Creek's Meredith Schulte (22) during a girls basketball tournament game played at Norcross Saturday.
It's tough to make a name for yourself in Region 7-AAAAA, no matter the sport. In basketball, it's especially difficult.
The region is always loaded with talent, but the program that gets the most national and state-wide attention (and rightfully so) is Norcross. The Blue Devils have earned it, winning the last two Class AAAAA girls state championships and four boys AAAAA state titles since 2006.
Together, the Norcross boys and girls form a pretty impressive overall program, one that accomplished the ideal double in 2011 by sweeping the boys and girls AAAAA titles.
But that ultimate success can overshadow the prosperity of others, most notably Mill Creek.
The Hawks have been ultra-successful in girls basketball for years, winning 21 or more games every season between 2005-06 and 2009-10. They've made at least the state quarterfinals four times since 2005-06, reaching the Final Four twice, including last season.
For all those accomplishments, the Mill Creek girls still don't get the respect they deserve because of their region foes' successes. Their earlier teams competed in region play with one of the best teams (Collins Hill) and probably the state's best-ever player (Maya Moore), and now they're facing a Norcross powerhouse led by Diamond DeShields and an up-and-coming North Gwinnett program led by Lexie Brown.
Still, it's hard to ignore what the Mill Creek girls have done lately under head coach Ashley Phillips and his staff. They've already won titles in the state's toughest region.
That's the goal this season for the Mill Creek boys, whose efforts lately have them looking like a true region championship contender.
Head coach Chad Rogers and his staff have the Mill Creek boys playing hard, playing smart and playing good defense. The results are surprising to outsiders (who wondered how graduation losses would hurt the Hawks), but the confidence built up by last year's Elite Eight team has carried over into this season.
Like its girls team, Mill Creek battled through a tough region on the boys side, too, where the same Norcross program has dominated 7-AAAAA for years.
Mill Creek's feats don't match Norcross' on a state level yet, but it's nice to see the Hawks heading in the right direction. The girls team is strong as usual, and the boys' rise (to the current No. 4 spot in the state rankings) will only earn it more credibility from folks outside Gwinnett County.
Together, the Hawks' teams are a combined 22-4 this season (12-1 boys and 10-3 girls). Those are the kind of results that will make people statewide take notice.
No matter what other teams are in your region.
Will Hammock can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com.