If the three-time defending state champion Terrell Academy girls basketball team, led by longtime head coach Keith Jones, center, can win two more games in the GISA state tournament, the Lady Eagles will become the first girls program in GISA history to win four consecutive state titles. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
DAWSON — Turns out that Terrell Academy not only has the best GISA girls basketball program in the state of Georgia, but the best T-shirts, too.
It was coach Keith Jones’ idea, and the shirts say just about everything you need to know about Terrell’s “Quad Squad,” a tough and determined group of girls who are trying to become the first girls team in GISA history to win four consecutive state titles.
Don’t forget about Class A: Westwood, Crisp Academy on crash course for another title duel
While Terrell Academy gets ready for an historic run in Milledgeville, Westwood and Crisp Academy play today in the GISA Class A Final Four with one thing in mind: meeting each other again.
Crisp faces Westminster Christian at 1 p.m., while Westwood meets Grace Christian Academy at 2:30 p.m., and if the two powerhouses win they will face off for the state title at noon Saturday in a rematch of last year’s Class A championship.
It’s no longer just a series with Westover and Crisp. It’s turned out to be a saga. Crisp won the state title last year, and then the two finalists played each other three times in the Region 3-A race, including the region title game, this season.
Crisp, which is led by Madi Mitchell, has won every meeting, but the rivalry has grown so much over the past year, and if Westwood could pull off the upset and win the state title, the rivalry would heat up like never before.
Both teams obliterated opponents to reach the Final Four. Crisp beat Twiggs, 60-13, and then beat Nathaniel Greene, 62-15, winning both games by 47 points.
Westwood, which is led by Miller and Morgan Singleton and Virginia Vereen, ripped Heritage Christian, 60-14, and then romped against Oak Mountain, 73-39, to get back to the Final Four, beating teams by an average 45 points.
Crisp is 23-3 this season, and Westwood is 21-4 with three losses to Crisp.
“We know people don’t like us,’’ said Lauren Barfield, a junior who has played for TAE since she was in eighth grade. “We know when we (go to the Final Four) that everybody wants to see us lose.’’
Freshman Marilauren Farr then jumped in and added her own observation.
“You walk in and everybody just looks at you like they want to punch you,’’ she said. “They just stare at you. You’re Terrell Academy, and people don’t like you.’’
Hence, the T-shirts.
Since everyone is out to get the Lady Eagles, Jones put a blue target on the backs of the shirts this week with a big blue No. “4” in the center of the target.
Written across target in big blue letters, it reads: “We’re used to it.’’
“When we’re playing at state we have our cheering section, and everybody else is against us,’’ Jones said. “We have our (fans), and then the rest of the stadium is cheering against us. Everybody else wants to see us lose. You know how it is, people want to see the underdog win, and they want to see us lose.’’
They are used to it.
“It keeps us from getting a big head, because everybody hates us,’’ Barfield said. “When we walk into a gym, everybody looks at us and starts talking about us.’’
That may be the scene today when Terrell Academy meets Briarwood at 4 p.m. in the Class AA state semifinals at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville. If the Lady Eagles win, they play for the record fourth state title at 3:20 p.m. on Saturday against the winner of the Gatewood-Christian Heritage game.
“Winning four in a row would be a dream come true,’’ Barfield said. “No one has ever done it. It would history. It would be major history.’’
It’s been a “major” run, and no matter what obstacles are thrown at TAE, the kids just keep finding a way to win. They lost three starters, including Marlee Locke and Millie Foster, who were anchors to the team during the first three titles but just kept rolling this season.
It’s been a new wall to climb every year. After being so close for three years in a row, Terrell Academy won the Class A state title three years ago on a last-second basket by Alex Barfield (no relation to Lauren). Then after winning a second title, they moved up to Class AA last season, and everyone said the run would end against bigger teams in the bigger classification.
But there was Terrell Academy winning it all on Maura Milliron’s winning shot with 2.4 seconds left that beat Gatewood for the third title in a row.
“I have dreams about that shot,’’ said Milliron, a junior who says she wakes up in the middle of the night at times remembering the game-winner. Now she just wants to be part of history.
“Three years ago it’s something we didn’t have, a state championship in girls basketball,’’ said Jones, who took his team to the state title game for three straight years before TAE won the first title. “We had lost three in a row, and it was the ultimate goal for us. The second year, no one believed we could do it, and last year we moved up to Class AA and no one gave us a chance.
“We lost (three starters) and we weren’t supposed to even be in the state tournament this year. We had to prove ourselves.’’
Jones wasn’t sure what kind of team he would have, but he told his kids before the season started that no girls team had ever won four state titles in a row in the history of GISA.
“It was motivation,’’ he said. “It would be nice to say of all of our accomplishments, no team has ever done it. You didn’t have to do much to motivate them.’’
They have come together. Farr and Lauren Barfield, who has been the first girl off the bench for years, stepped into starting roles, and TAE just kept the dynasty moving toward Milledgeville.
Farr leads the team in scoring (16 points per game) and rebounds (nine), and Lauren Barfield is averaging 12 points and eight rebounds. Milliron, who made the formula work this year by successfully making the move from the shooting guard to point guard, is scoring eight points and handing out four assists a game. Then there’s Sarah Bridges, a tough, gritty junior who Jones calls his defensive specialist.
“She has really done a good job,’’ Jones. “She’s tough. She sticks her nose in there and takes the other teams’ 2-guard, who is usually the top scorer. She gets knocked down, but she gets right back up.’’
So does Terrell Academy, which could have called it a rebuilding year, but instead is calling it a possible history-making year.
It took a while to get make it work.
“We had to put the puzzle back together. I had to do a little coaching,’’ joked Jones. “Last year, they had been together so long I just told them what to do. At the beginning of the season we had some growing pains. We had to find out who we were.’’
After a slow start, the Lady Eagles soared and enter the Final Four with a 24-3 record and a 17-game winning streak from a team that is made up of one senior — Alex Barfield, who is averaging 15 points a game — three juniors, three freshmen and three eighth-graders.
No one wanted to throw in the towel at TAE, where it’s not about towels but hanging state title banners. There’s a slogan on the sign outside the school that reads “Go Quad Squad — No Towels, just Banners!”
The unbelievable run says a lot about the school and the program.
“It says Terrell Academy is able to perform against the best of the best, year-in and year-out,’’ Jones said. “When you look at it, you realize (the run) comes from three different groups winning championships.’’
The kids may get stares and hear the whispers from the Terrell Academy haters, but these days they almost thrive on it, because they know they had to earn it on the court, and no one wants to ease up on the gas.
“It would be awesome to win four in a row. It says we work hard every year and don’t slack off. It says we don’t take it for granted,’’ Lauren Barfield said. “Our coach pushes us to the limit every day. We never take a day off. You can’t take a day off when you’re the state champs.’’
Even if you’re used to it.
Want To Go or Follow Online?
WHO: Terrell Academy, Westwood, Crisp Academy.
WHAT: GISA Class A, AA Final Four.
WHEN: 1, 2:30 and 4 p.m. today
WEB: Live updates at twitter.com/AlbHeraldSports.