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GWINNETT GRADS: Collins Hill's Chaney helping build Coastal Georgia program

As a high school basketball player, Crystal Chaney entered into a very established program.

When she transferred prior to her junior year at Central Gwinnett, Chaney joined a Collins Hill program that just finished a run of three straight state championships with future WNBA and USA Basketball star Maya Moore. The Eagles also had won two titles pre-Moore, giving them five titles in a seven-year span when Chaney showed up in Suwanee.

Now finishing her college career, Chaney is part of a completely different experience.

The 6-foot-1 senior is part of a milestone era at the College of Coastal Georgia, which has transitioned from a junior college to a four-year school in recent years. The school's women's basketball program disbanded in the early 1980s but resumed last season, Chaney's first with the team.

She and a group of girls who never played together joined up for the 2011-12 season and finished with an impressive 19-10 record.

Chaney averaged 9.3 points and 7.1 rebounds last season.

"It was cool," Chaney said of the Coastal Georgia debut. "It was the first year of having a women's basketball team and I wanted to be part of that experience. I wanted to watch it grow up."

The program's second season has gone pretty well, too.

The Mariners, now competing as a full member of the NAIA, are 17-6 overall and 9-4 in the Southern States Athletic Conference. Four of their next five games are at home, beginning with today's matchup with Truett-McConnell, so they're hopeful of finishing strong and competing well at their first-ever SSAC Tournament.

"We'd love to go to conference and win," said Chaney, who played one season at both Florida A&M and Georgia Perimeter College before enrolling at Coastal Georgia.

Chaney has done her part, averaging a team-high 12.1 points and 7.4 rebounds. In her last game vs. the Mariners' next opponent, Truett-McConnell, she had 20 points and 20 rebounds.

She credits her success with workouts last summer at Collins Hill Park, where she played against college-caliber men's players, like current Charleston Southern guard Saah Nimley.

"I think I did pretty bad playing against (the men's players)," Chaney said. "But me playing this year, I see it has helped me. I'm more aggressive going to the basket."

At first glance, aggressiveness may not seem like a trait that fits Chaney, admittedly a girly-girl. Her nickname at Florida A&M was "Girly." At Coastal Georgia, it's "Diva."

"I'm a little girly I guess," she said. "On the court I'm aggressive and I play the game well. But you can tell how I run down the court. It's the way I run or something. People say, 'Oh, that's Crystal.'"

No matter the style, it's hard to argue with Chaney's results. She plays an important role for the fledgling Coastal Georgia program, and she hopes to leave it in great shape for future seasons.

When she graduates with a psychology degree, she plans to do something else that people don't expect when they hear her nicknames --join the Air Force.

"I've heard a lot of good things about (the Air Force) and I want to try something new," Chaney said. "I'm hoping to find my niche and find a career out of it."

But for the immediate future, her focus is on building the Coastal Georgia program.

"She has carried the team with her play," Coastal Georgia head coach Betsy Harris said Jan. 21 after Chaney was named SSAC player of the week. "If she hadn't been playing like that, we would not have won as many games as we have."

BASKETBALL

Williams gets conference honor

Tia Williams of Mill Creek was named the Conference Carolinas player of the week on Tuesday after helping No. 22-ranked Limestone College to three wins the previous week.

The senior guard averaged 15.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 4.7 steals in those wins, which boosted the Saints' record to 14-2.

Williams' week began with a near triple-double --14 points, nine steals and eight rebounds vs. Converse. She followed it up with a career-high 24 points vs. King and then eight points and 10 rebounds vs. Mount Olive.

The game with Mount Olive marked Williams' 104th consecutive start for the NCAA Division II program.

Peach Belt

award goes to White

The Peach Belt Conference named Grayson product Taren White as its player of the week on Monday.

The sophomore guard averages 16.5 points the previous week as her Columbus State team defeated Montevallo and Georgia Southwestern. Her 16-point game vs. Montevallo was capped with her game-winning basket as time expired in a 78-77 victory. She then scored 17 points in only 19 points against Georgia Southwestern.

Wiedeman back from injury

An injury has made it a rough season so far for Greater Atlanta Christian's Trent Wiedeman, but the 6-foot-8, 255-pound junior is returning to the form that saw him earn All-Southern Conference honors last season.

Wiedeman had 17 points and eight rebounds in last Saturday's College of Charleston win at Wofford, making 8 of 10 field goals, and added 10 points and five rebounds Thursday vs. Appalachian State. Those numbers are more in line with what the forward did last season.

It's been different for most of this season because he blew out one of the surgically repaired ligaments in his ankle in the third game of the season that had the coaches considering a redshirt. But he worked hard for a return, then rolled his other ankle in his first game back.

Gwinnett grads lead GCSU upset

Georgia College and State University pulled off an upset last Sunday thanks to big contributions from three Gwinnett grads.

The Bobcats knocked off Peach Belt Conference-leading Young Harris 67-65, improving their records to 7-10 overall and 3-7 in the conference.

Robert Armstrong, a freshman from GAC, had career highs of 10 points and nine rebounds and Brookwood's Nate Hamilton had 12 points for the victors. Point guard Aaron Robinson, a Meadowcreek grad, had 10 points and a career-high seven assists without committing a turnover.

Gwinnett Grads is a column that runs on Saturdays spotlighting achievements of past Gwinnett standouts. Coaches and parents are urged to send suggestions via email to will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com.