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PREP HOOPS PREVIEW: Lady Tornadoes back ... and better than ever

Monroe star senior Sheniqua Young — a two-time Herald Super 6er — and the Lady Tornadoes have an experienced team this season and are already talking about not only winning city and region titles, but making a deep run the Class state playoffs.

Monroe star senior Sheniqua Young — a two-time Herald Super 6er — and the Lady Tornadoes have an experienced team this season and are already talking about not only winning city and region titles, but making a deep run the Class state playoffs.

ALBANY -- It's still hard to believe Monroe's girls basketball team didn't make the playoffs a year ago.

The Lady Tornadoes, who have steadily improved over the years, had the misfortune of playing Crisp County in the first-round play-in game in the Region 1-AAA tournament. The winner advanced to the region semifinals and earned a berth in the state playoffs. The loser went home.

No one knew at the time that Crisp, the No. 5 seed in the region, would march all the way to the Final Four in Macon.

"I was mad we didn't make the playoffs,'' said Sheniqua Young, who led Monroe in scoring last season. "But it just made me wait for this year so we can show everybody we're better.''

Monroe doesn't just have a chance to be better, the Lady Tornadoes have a chance to be a lot better.

Monroe lost starters Ashley Johnson and Jessica Burkes, but this is still the most experienced team coach Cheryl Cheeks has had in her five years. When she arrived at Monroe, the program was coming off an 0-23 season, and she's been building it up every year since. And now the kids at Monroe, who made an impact in the playoffs two years ago, expect to get to the postseason every year now.

"This year we expect to make a run in the playoffs,'' Young said. "We have more confidence. We believe in ourselves.''

The return of Young, a two-time Herald Super 6er, plus the emergence of Davone Anduze, who had a big year last year as a sophomore, and the addition of Cessily Colwell, a starter at rival Westover last season who is now wearing green and gold, gives Monroe a solid foundation.

Not to mention Destinee Collins, a quick-silver guard, and Chelsea Cox, both saw lots of time last year. Alexandrea Childs, a 5-foot-11 senior, gives Monroe a solid presence inside. But it's the overall experience that has Monroe feeling good about the upcoming season.

"We have always had speed,'' said Cheeks, whose team lives on defense and turnovers. "We still have speed, but now we have the talent to go with it. They have matured a little bit. This might be my best team. We should go deep in the playoffs.''

Cheeks knows she will get points from Young, who averaged 22 a game last year and made more than 100 3-pointers -- draining five or six 3s a game. And Anduze could have a breakout year.

"Her confidence this year is so much better,'' Cheeks said. "You don't have to tell her to shoot. She knows when to take the shot, and she's not afraid to take it.''

Anduze, who is also a track star, runs the court like a gazelle and has tremendous leaping ability. She's 5-9 now and can play anywhere on the court, and Cheeks believes before Anduze leaves Monroe, she will be above the rim.

"The way she jumps, I think she will be able to dunk before she leaves Monroe,'' Cheeks said.

The addition of Colwell changes the way Monroe attacks the basket.

"She didn't shoot a lot (for Westover), but she will shoot the ball more for us,'' Cheeks said. "She brings that experience, and she brings experience at the guard spot. We've never had a true point guard, and she brings that for us. And she fits in perfectly with our team.

"We will be better because of CC, and because they worked so hard this summer to improve their game. It was disappointing losing to Crisp and not going to the playoffs, but I think we learned something from it. I think it made us hungrier.''

Anduze said it was "shocking" the way last season ended.

"I was upset when we lost to (Crisp). It was a shock -- shocking,'' she said. "We expected to go to the playoffs last year, and I think we put in a little more effort to get ready for this season. We worked harder. I believe we want it more.''

It won't be easy.

The Region 1-AAA race will be loaded with Crisp as the favorite, and perennial power Westover and defending region champ Dougherty are ready to make a run at the title along with Monroe and Americus-Sumter, which returns another strong team.

Still, Monroe has come a long way.

"The expectations are there,'' Cheeks said.