Gwinnett girls teams ready for Tuesday quarterfinals

Photo: Karl L. Moore  North Gwinnett guard Baylee Rexing (5) drives around Norcross' Diamond DeShields (22) during Saturday night's Region 7-AAAAAA championship game.

Photo: Karl L. Moore North Gwinnett guard Baylee Rexing (5) drives around Norcross' Diamond DeShields (22) during Saturday night's Region 7-AAAAAA championship game.

Gwinnett County's four remaining girls teams in the state high school basketball tournament should all be familiar with the position they find themselves in as the tournament moves into the quarterfinal round Tuesday.

Though North Gwinnett, which makes it second straight trip to the quarterfinals, is a relative newcomer, the Bulldogs (27-1) come in with a consensus national ranking.

Meanwhile Wesleyan (making its 13th straight appearance), Buford (seventh straight appearance) and Norcross (fourth straight appearance) have become fixtures in their respective classification's quarterfinals.

Maintaining that level of excellence can be a burden to continuing generations of players in such a program, but the way Wesleyan coach Jan Azar sees it, setting the bar that high is something the players who come into the Wolves' program are quite used to.

"I think they do expect it of themselves," said Azar, who has guided the Wolves (25-4) to state championships in Class A or AA in nine of the last 11 seasons. "It can be tough, but the girls hold themselves to a high standard."

While Gwinnett's four remaining teams have become familiar faces among the state's Elite Eight in recent years, Wesleyan and Norcross (25-5) will be showing up in somewhat more unfamiliar places thanks to the a new tournament format this season.

The addition of a new classification and the splitting up of Class A into public and private schools, plus the limited availability of venues, prompted the Georgia High School Association to move the quarterfinal round from neutral sites to on-campus sites this season.

As a result of that move, plus the luck of the brackets, both the Wolves and Blue Devils will have to hit the road for a state tournament game for the first time in a very long time.

For Wesleyan, Tuesday's quarterfinal game at Calhoun (26-1) will be its first true road postseason game since a 71-50 win at Model in the second round of the 2008 tournament.

And while Azar is not thrilled with the idea of traveling to the north Georgia mountains to play an opponent on its home court, she is confident her Wolves will be up to the challenge.

"I'm not happy about getting a No. 1 seed by playing so well all season, and then we've got to go to place that's a decided homecourt advantage," said Azar, whose Wolves will be facing the Yellow Jackets for the first time Tuesday. "But we like to play different places during the season to prepare for (the postseason). … We definitely don't mind playing anywhere in the state. If we're going to a place like Calhoun with a nice crowd and a good atmosphere, I'm sure it's something our kids are looking forward to. "

Likewise, Norcross will be facing its first true road tournament game since 2009 when it travels to Canton to take on Cherokee (29-1) for a 7 p.m. tipoff.

While the playing on the road may be a factor, coach Angie Hembree's bigger concern is facing a Warriors team on a roll, particularly on the heels of the Blue Devils surviving a double-overtime thriller at Parkview in the second round.

Despite having some players who have experienced the big-time atmosphere of Norcross' 2010 and 2011 Class AAAAA state titles, as well as last year's Final Four appearance, such as recently crowned Miss Georgia Basketball Diamond DeShields and fellow senior Shayla Cooper, Hembree knows the younger players must also quickly shift gears and look forward.

"There's no relaxing," Hembree said. "It's survive and try to continue on. And in Cherokee, we've got a solid club to take on in a tremendous atmosphere. I'm glad to still be in it, but we've got to concentrate on our next challenge."

Meanwhile, Gwinnett's two other remaining girls teams will be at home for the quarterfinals, with North welcoming Alpharetta for a 7 p.m. tipoff, while Buford (24-4) plays host to St. Pius X at 6 p.m.