ALBANY -- It's the oldest chant in sports, but the next time they shout "We're No. 1" at Monroe they can mean it.
"OK, that's good,'' said Monroe boys basketball coach Marquis Davis after he was told his Tornadoes were the top-ranked team in the Georgia Sportswriters Association's most recent state basketball poll. "In the history of Monroe basketball, I don't think we've ever been ranked No. 1 in the state. We appreciate the support.''
Davis has never worried about being ranked high. He took the Herald's No. 1 ranking and used it to push his players, and plans to do the same now that Monroe is the No. 1 ranked team in Class AAA.
"We don't look at it as a burden. We look at it as motivation," Davis said. "It's a nice gesture when the region and the state give you accolades. When we were ranked No. 1 in Southwest Georgia, we just said let's defend what we have. That's been our motto. Now we are No. 1 in the state, we have to defend it.''
Monroe had never been ranked as high as No. 3 in the state until last week. The Tornadoes made the jump to the top spot after top-ranked South Atlanta and second-ranked Liberty County both lost. Monroe stayed perfect at 18-0, and received three first-place votes to barely edge LaGrange (19-0). Monroe had a total of 69 points, and LaGrange was second with 66 points. South Atlanta slipped to No. 3 just ahead of Liberty County.
Westover (16-2) was upset by Crisp County last week, but the Patriots stayed in the Top 10, dropping just three spots from No.5 to No. 7. Terrell County's boys team moved up from No. 9 to No. 8 in the Class A, but those two teams won't stay there, because they meet in Dawson Saturday night in what should be one of the best games of the season. Terrell County led Monroe in the final minutes two weeks ago before Monroe beat the Greenwave, 41-37. Bainbridge's boys were not ranked, but received three votes in AAAA.
"I'm glad to see Westover is still hanging in there in the Top 10,'' Davis said of his city rival. Monroe, which beat the Patriots, 61-58, in their first game, meets Westover in a rematch Feb. 5.
There wasn't much change in the state girls polls for area teams. Bainbridge (17-2), which has looked as good as any team in the state, moved up from No. 8 to No. 5 in the girls AAAA poll, but Randolph-Clay (17-3) slipped from No. 4 to No. 5 in the Class A girls poll despite not losing. Lee County's girls got one vote in the Class AAAA poll, while Westover's girls received four votes in the AAA poll.
If being No. 1 in the state for the first time isn't a big enough burden to carry, Monroe's Robert Arnold predicted an unbeaten regular season earlier in the week, saying "I guarantee'' Monroe will win the rest of its games.
"If I had to have a player say it, Robert would be the one to say it,'' Davis said. "If anybody else would have said that I probably would have been upset. But he has been stepping up this year, and for a kid to say that, that's a powerful thing. But I know that now that he said it, he will work even harder.''
Davis knows the target on his team's back is as big as ever now that the Tornadoes wear the No. 1 tag.
"It's always tough when you are at the top. Everyone will be gunning for us,'' he said. "But we are kind of jelling now. I don't think we have played our best basketball yet.''
Monroe has six games left, and the next two are on the road, but three of the last four are at home, including games against Westover and Terrell County.
"We do get that home stretch,'' said Davis, who is concerned about tonight's game at Crisp County. "You know (the Cougars) will be gunning for us (now that we're No. 1), and especially coming off that win over Westover last week. These are the kind of games that scrare me the most.''