The Lady Spartans saw their season end in the first round of the state tournament.
Athens Academy’s girls basketball team reached the Class A-Private state playoffs after winning the Region 8-A-Private crown. The Lady Spartans were matched up with Galloway in the opening round last Wednesday, Feb. 24, and fell 45-24.
“That region is a really, really good region,” Athens Academy head coach Brian Olson said of Region 5-A-Private, of which Galloway is a member. “Galloway’s one of the best teams in the state. They have four really solid players and then a lot of good role players.”
Last Wednesday’s game was a contentious affair during the first half.
The teams battled throughout the opening period. Eventually, Athens Academy took a 12-10 lead into the quarter break.
Neither team gained a comfortable edge during the second quarter. Galloway was able to reverse the score, though, and take a 19-17 lead by intermission.
Olson said his team had scouted Galloway well enough to open the game on a competitive note.
“For us, I think that first half was a lot of film work, a lot of game planning, understanding what we needed to do to best be in the game and we executed that,” Olson said. “Offensively, we struggled a little bit. There was a lot of pressure by them and they have a lot of size and a lot of athletic ability. We knew it was going to be big to be up at the half but just to be where we were, I loved the effort, I loved the energy and I loved the attitude and the fight. But it's very difficult to sustain for an entire game.”
Aside from his team’s preparation, Olson said he felt the Lady Spartans might have been underestimated in the beginning as well.
“Anytime you have teams coming in from Atlanta coming into our gym, I think they kind of come in, look at us and think, ‘OK, we're bigger than them at every position and we’re the No. 7-ranked team in the state and this is going to be easy,’” Olson said. “A lot of people tend to overlook our teams. I have to give a lot of credit to our kids. Our girls are extremely tough. They fight through everything.”
Galloway clamped down on defense as the third quarter began. The Scots held Athens Academy to just 2 points the entire quarter.
In addition to stifling the Lady Spartans’ offense, Galloway launched its own offense and rattled off 20 points in the third frame.
The fourth quarter was much more low-scoring, but Galloway had done enough by that point to finish off the game and earn a road upset victory.
“In the second half, they had a couple of shots that went down early, their defense really tightened up and we had a lot of shots that just didn’t fall,” Olson said. “We shot our worst percentage of the season. Sometimes, that happens in basketball but I can’t say it was us and we just didn’t hit shots because that’s a credit to [Galloway’s] defense, too. It was a combination of both. We respect their ability and what they did as a team. They won their next round and they're going on in the Elite Eight and I do think they’re for sure one of the best eight teams in the state. I still think we’re one of the top 10 teams in the state. It just happened to be the group we matched up with was the toughest region in the state.”
There was understandable disappointment after the loss, but Olson pointed to a big positive takeaway from the game: His defense excelled.
Galloway had only been held to 45 points once before in a Feb. 18 loss to Hebron Christian Academy. The Lady Spartans forced the Lady Scots to repeat that point total, their lowest on the season.
“They watched a lot of film and paid attention to detail,” Olson said. “They knew what each girl likes to do and tried to keep the ball out of their best players’ hands. ... They have four girls who are averaging double figures and we were able to take that down to three girls. Even though we held them below their season averages, those three and really four girls were just better than us that night. I’m really proud of our defense.”
In turn, Olson credited Galloway’s defense as well for the work it did against his squad.
The playoff loss ended the Lady Spartans’ season and also brought an end to Meg Williams’ high school career. Olson recently revealed that Williams set the expectation for the 2020-21 season – that Athens Academy needed to win the region title – and he said Williams’ influence on the program will be felt for a long time.
“What she’s done stays with us forever,” Olson said. “She’s in history as one of the only four teams in school history to win a region championship, so she always owns that. ... We had to learn how to win a championship, so that is all on Meg kind of pushing us forward and having that belief and that work ethic and team chemistry. Now, we start working toward trying to get back to that championship game again and then learn how to make a deeper run in the state tournament. It really is not that we’re saying goodbye to her. It’s more of the team now has to not only prove themselves but improve on that because of what she’s established. She’s established a baseline now so that anything less than this year is not necessarily acceptable or where we want to be.”
As the team moves into the offseason, Olson is looking to the returning players to take initiative next.
“Now as we have our end-of-season meetings, we really get to kind of see where they want to be for next year,” Olson said. “We can start to figure out what that’s gonna look like, what it’s gonna take. The girls who really want to earn a spot are gonna have that opportunity. We have a lot of younger girls who are coming up throughout the years as well. There were a lot of kids and families that were watching our games throughout the tournament at home on TV with their family. We want these kids to be proud to be in Spartan uniforms. We want them to be proud of the school they play for.”