It’s not only the school’s rise from Class AA into Class AAAA that will test its mettle, but a non-region schedule that consists almost exclusively of Class AAAAA and AAAAAA opponents. In addition to its county rivals, River Ridge will play against the likes of Kell, Sprayberry, Kennesaw Mountain and Walton.
Girls coach Jason Taylor explained how his team drew such a difficult schedule.
“We are only going to have eight region games this year, so we had to schedule 17 non-region games, and the ones we scheduled are pretty tough,” said Taylor, who has been with the team since the school opened. “I’m not saying that our region won’t be tough, but it is the non-region games that will make our schedule a bit tougher than last year’s.”
Both Taylor and boys coach Matt Bohon hope to use the bulk of their non-region schedules to their advantage.
“Our early-season schedule has got to help us before we get into region play,” said Bohon, who, like Taylor, has been with the program from the start. “It’ll be tough, but it can’t do anything but help us prepare for our region games.”
For both coaches, the familiarity that has developed among their players will be vital for each team’s success.
“As far as the chemistry of the team is concerned, how often do you get to play with the same group of kids for four years?” Taylor said. “We’re returning everybody, along with a couple of JV kids that moved up, so it’s pretty much the same team we’ve had for years. These kids have been together since Day 1.”
“We have a core group of kids that have play together on varsity for three or four seasons, so we hope that, this year, it pays dividends,” Bohon said.
For Taylor, the year has initially proved to be a bit more complicated due to his team’s transition from a four guard offense to now fielding two post players on the floor.
“With what we are doing now, the offense has to slow a little bit, be patient and wait for things to happen to find the open player,” said Taylor, whose team has started off 1-1. “We are having to learn the timing still and are slowly developing, but it will get there.”
Taking the court as the Lady Knights’ two post players will be junior Jess Mlaska and senior Parker Nayman, who both stand 6 feet or taller.
Also in the starting lineup will be junior point guard Lucy Stone, senior guard Jordan Livesay and junior guard Jessica Baker.
Taylor also expects junior guard Rachel Psomas, who started the majority of last year, to see significant playing time as well.
Despite the team’s transition, Taylor is still confident that the Lady Knights, who went 21-10 last year, can make the state playoffs for the third season in a row.
Bohon will rely on two junior guards — Nick Masterson, last year’s leading scorer, and Steven Spears, the quarterback for the Knights’ football team — to make a push at winning the their half of Region 7AAAA.
“Our football team won the subregion and went to the playoffs. They set the bar pretty high, but that’s our goal,” Bohon said. “We want to win the subregion and go to state, which we’ve never done before.”
Bohon expects juniors Ty Suwalski, James Smith and Jon Karlin, and seniors Jeremy Mims and Alex Gee, to see significant time on the floor as well.
With Masterson as the only player to stand taller than 6-3, Bohon stressed the importance of the rest of his team fighting hard to win the battle at the boards.
“We’re not very big or tall, so if we don’t rebound the ball, we are going to have a hard time beating anybody,” Bohon said.