NORCROSS — If Wesleyan is to break the state record with a seventh straight girls state title, the Wolves will have to do it with one of their youngest and least-experienced teams.
“I’ve never had seven freshmen before,” coach Jan Azar said.
Once of those freshmen — Mikayla Coombs — has already received college scholarship offers, though, and the returnees appear very capable of stepping up into more prominent roles this season.
“With so many young players, it is going to take a little longer to see exactly how good we can be,” Azar said. “We’re still trying to see how everything will fit, but so far I’ve been pleased.
“Our goal is to play for the state championship, like it always is.”
Wesleyan definitely looked the part of a state championship contender again in Class AA as it opened the season with a 74-32 rout of Class AAAAAA Milton on Tuesday night in the Hilton Tip-Off Classic hosted by Norcross.
Coombs had 17 points, seven rebounds and five steals, while junior Nikki McDonald — one of the more experienced returnees, scored 14 of her 16 points in the first half.
Wesleyan hit five 3-pointers while building a 38-20 lead at intermission and made it a rout by outscoring Milton 27-8 in the third quarter.
Taylor Casey, who joined McDonald with two 3-pointers, scored 11 points. Fellow sophomore Cairo Booker added eight points, five steals and three assists, while freshman Riley Casey contributed three assists.
Wesleyan, which had five players earn college scholarships last season, has just two seniors on its 15-person roster. However, all except two of the players who dressed against Milton scored and there was little difference between the first and second units.
Wesleyan, which played just once in the four-day Norcross showcase, should get a better test of where it stands in the Parkview Tip-Off Classic, which begins Saturday. The Wolves will open against Alpharetta and could face Westlake it the title game of its division on Tuesday.
“Our goal is to be better each game than the one before,” said Azar, who has led Wesleyan to 10 state titles and a 409-85 record. “But I understand with such a young team that there is going to be inconsistency and I’ve got to be patient with that.”
The Hilton Tip-Off Classic continues tonight at Norcross with four games. Defending Class AAAAAA state champ Norcross will face Newton County in the finale after North Gwinnett, which lost to Norcross in the title game, plays Class AAAAA power Tucker.
A total of 16 games will be played in the 16-team showcase, with some teams playing three times and others just once. The event concludes Saturday night with Norcross facing McEachern.
In addition to Norcross and Wesleyan, the Hilton Tip-Off Classic features Columbia — the Class AAAA state champion. Columbia will play Greater Atlanta Christian on Thursday in its first game.
Norcross, which has won three state titles in the past four years, will have to regroup without Diamond DeShields, the consensus national high school player of the year last season who is now playing for North Carolina.
Coach Angie Hembree, though, has starters Bri Williams and Sierra Butler back and a talented group of young players led by sophomore Vashnie Perry and freshmen Tylia Gillespie and Taylor Mason.