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Wesleyan girls face big challenge in pursuit of historic title

As much as Wesleyan has dominated the state's girls basketball scene in two different classifications over the past dozen years, there have been some big challenges along the way.

Yet, the Wolves have met every one of them in winning five straight state championships and nine in the last 11 years.

The task confronting Wesleyan as it takes on Laney for the Class AA title today at 3 p.m. at the Macon Centreplex may be one of the biggest they've faced in a while, in every sense of the word.

In addition to entering today's title game at a perfect 30-0, the Wildcats feature one of the state's most powerful low-post forces in 6-foot-4 Khadijiah Cave.

The Baylor-bound senior showed just how overwhelming she could be with her triple-double -- including 31 points, 14 rebounds and 10 blocked shots -- in Laney's semifinal win over previously-unbeaten Kendrick.

Cave alone is a huge obstacle in Wesleyan's way, but as coach Jan Azar points out, she isn't the only one as Laney features four other players standing 6-0 or taller, including 6-2 senior Simone Smith.

"Their size is definitely a concern," Azar said. "They've got another good post player, Simone Smith, who plays with intensity and passion. It's not just Cave. Our bigs are going to have to keep them off the boards."

As formidable as the Wildcats' size is, it's nothing the Wolves (27-4) haven't dealt with before.

They've played several large teams during their customary strong non-region schedule, as well as their road through the Class AA state tournament bracket.

And there's one team, in particular who Azar believes has particularly prepared her team well.

"They remind me in size of Buford," Azar said of Laney. "Buford's the biggest team we've played all year."

But the Wolves were able to use its smothering full-court pressure defense to overcome Buford's size not once, but twice, this season.

The press and general quick tempo has become a staple of Wesleyan's run, and this year is no exception, with a deep set of contributors like seniors Katie Frerking and Brittany Stevens setting the tone.

And Azar said the team's approach won't change today.

"We're going to do what we do," Azar said. "We will be prepared to do something different if we need to, but you always start out playing your game."

As formidable a challenge as Laney poses, the biggest challenge Wesleyan may face today is history.

A win would give the Wolves their sixth straight state championship, matching the state record that Hart County set in winning six straight Class AAA state titles between 1989 and 1994.

It would also be the program's 10th title, matching the all-time state record set by Taylor County.

But if Laney wasn't enough of a reason for the Wolves to keep their focus solely on the task at hands, Azar has given them more.

"The main thing I wanted to emphasize in practice this week is that (going for the record) is a great thing to be a part of. It's something special," Azar said. "But they also need to realize (playing for a single state title) doesn't happen every day. They need to appreciate this year for this year and go out and play for themselves."

And based on the make-up of this year's team, Azar is confident the Wolves will respond like they already have in going through one of the toughest state brackets they've ever faced, including wins over Calhoun in the quarterfinals and Thomasville in the semis -- two teams with a combined three losses coming into those games.

"The team has done a good job of meeting challenges all season," Azar said. "A big part of it is having five or our six seniors here for the duration and have been a part of (previous state championships). It helps to have that experience.

"But only a few of them have been big contributors before. Several of them, like Kendra Talley and Keevana Edwards and Paige Mosley and CaraMia Tsirigos, whale had to wait their turn to be impact players, and they've really stepped up."