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HAMMOCK: Gwinnett high school basketball state finalists in underdog roles

Archer’s Amber Skidgel (32) takes a 3-point shot against Lowndes during the girls Class AAAAAA semifinals last Saturday in Atlanta. Archer plays for a state title Saturday in Macon. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)

Archer’s Amber Skidgel (32) takes a 3-point shot against Lowndes during the girls Class AAAAAA semifinals last Saturday in Atlanta. Archer plays for a state title Saturday in Macon. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)

Greater Atlanta Christian is the exception in Gwinnett County high school basketball this week.

The mighty Spartans, ranked 12th nationally by USA Today and aiming to be the county’s first-ever unbeaten boys basketball team from start to finish, are the unequivocal favorite in Friday’s Class AA state championship game in Macon. Calhoun (26-2) is a quality team, but not tested against top-ranked opponents like defending state champion GAC.

As for Gwinnett’s other four state finalists this weekend, they all lean more toward underdog than favorite. At best, they have even matchups.

It seems odd to consider Wesleyan, also bidding for history and a state-record seventh straight championship, an underdog in Friday’s AA girls final, but that may be the case. The Wolves are younger than ever during their run of titles, while a deep Kendrick (28-0) team has destroyed virtually every team on its schedule, which obviously isn’t as taxing as Wesleyan’s tough slate. But Kendrick’s elimination of Greater Atlanta Christian a week ago was eye-catching.

The Buford girls also won’t have the favorite moniker in Saturday’s title clash with St. Pius in AAA. St. Pius (29-3) is the defending state champion and last year’s title run included a 13-point victory over Buford on the Wolves’ home floor.

The Buford boys can at least claim even status for Saturday’s AAA finals game with Morgan County. It’s the third meeting between the two this season and they’ve split the first two — Morgan County winning at its home 76-65 and Buford winning at its home 69-58. A pair of 11-point wins, doesn’t get more even than that.

The ultimate underdog may come in the AAAAAA girls championship game, where season-long favorite McEachern, 27-2 and ranked 16th nationally by USA Today, faces upstart Archer. The Tigers are young and inexperienced at this stage, and they are in just their fifth season of existence. That combination makes McEachern the heavy favorite.

Here’s to hoping the underdog role serves the Wesleyan girls, Buford girls and Archer girls well this weekend, allowing them to play more carefree without the burden of expectations. Hopefully the GAC and Buford boys will deliver, too, and give Gwinnett a 5-for-5 state title sweep.

Coaching changes

Though the season just ended for most teams, we already know Gwinnett’s girls basketball head coaching ranks will look a bit different next season.

GAC head girls coach Cal Boyd resigned this week to focus more on his own children, who are both going through the college athletic recruiting process. It’s a familiar refrain, like the one we heard earlier from Brookwood’s Scott Terry and Collins Hill’s Paula Skinner when they stepped down from head girls basketball jobs.

High school head coaching in any sport is time-consuming, but the long, drawn-out basketball season makes that sport one of the most taxing. Sometimes coaches must shift their focus to different priorities, family being the most important.

Means makes

final trip home

GAC grad Chaney Means will play her 120th college basketball game this weekend, and will finally get a chance to play in her hometown.

The Western Kentucky senior guard plays Saturday at noon at Georgia State, an ideal place for the final regular-season game of her college career. Prior to this season, Means’ closest college game to this area was a matchup at Auburn in last year’s Women’s NIT.

It’s been a fun season for Means and her teammates so far. Western Kentucky took a 19-8 record into this week, standing second in the Sun Belt Conference.

Will Hammock can be reached via email at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock.