Local rivals, region foes Albany Tech, Darton square off tonight

Lauren Johnson and the Lady Cavs host a huge game tonight against local rival Albany Tech.

Lauren Johnson and the Lady Cavs host a huge game tonight against local rival Albany Tech.

ALBANY — Albany Tech’s Shakima Wiggins is hearing about the hype when she gets her hair cut.

Darton’s Michelle Mitchell heard about it Sunday night at McDonalds.

All across Albany people are talking about tonight’s Region XVII matchup between city rivals Darton College and Albany Tech. And for the most part, they are saying the same thing.

“We’re gonna win, we’re gonna win,” said Darton sophomore Christina Brown at Monday’s practice about what she’s been hearing.

Want To Go?

WHO: Albany Tech women (11-3 overall, 3-2 in Region XVII) at Darton College (8-5, 3-2).

WHAT: First meeting of the season between local, region rivals.

WHEN: 6 p.m. today.

WHERE: Darton College.

Despite being in the midst of its best season in the three-year history of its program, Albany Tech, which is 11-3 overall and 3-0 in Region XVII play, can’t get away from the underdog role.

“People in barber shops are saying we are going to get smashed (today),” Wiggins said. “I just tell them, ‘Wait and see, but I doubt it.’ ”

Darton is coming into the game 8-5 overall and 3-2 in region play, but the Lady Cavs had a doozy of a schedule in the first half of the season.

Three of their losses have been against Top 20 nationally ranked junior college teams — No. 2 Northwest Florida State, No. 13 Chipola and No. 18 Middle Georgia — and each of those losses was by seven or fewer points.

Lea Henry is in her first year as coach of the Lady Cavs and was unaware of the rivalry between the two Albany teams before taking the job, but she said it was evident her players had an extra skip in their step during Monday’s practice.

“I noticed (Monday) that they had a little more energy, and they were excited,” Henry said after Monday’s practice. “We have had some time off, and I think we are ready to play again. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

The game, which will be played at Darton, will be the first time the teams have met since last February when the Lady Cavs won, 70-58. But on Monday, Albany Tech sophomore Bianca Fennessee was remembering last year’s first game between the two rivals Jan. 22, which the Lady Titans won, 66-63.

It wasn’t just a region victory for the Lady Titans — it was the team’s first victory against Darton and a statement that the start-up program was for real.

“It felt good,” said Fennessee, who is tied for sixth in the region in scoring (16.5 points per game), first in rebounding (17.9 rebounds per game) and first in blocks (4.5 blocks per game). “To be honest, I had never felt that good. We hadn’t beaten them the year before, and we knew we were capable of beating them. It was a good win.”

Brown, who is averaging just above 10 points per game for the Lady Cavs, remembers walking off the floor shocked that her team had just lost to its cross-town rival.

“Honesty, I was devastated,” Brown said. “A lot of emotions came out of me. They were telling me that we had to win and beat them. And then when we didn’t, it was devastating.”

The Lady Cavs may be the favorites coming into today’s game, but they aren’t overlooking an Albany Tech team that is outscoring opponents by an average of 18.8 points per game.

And there are two very good reasons why they shouldn’t be looking past the Lady Titans: Fennessee and Wiggins.

Fennessee is leading the nation in rebounding and is second in blocked shots, while Wiggins has the third-highest scoring average in the country.

They have put Albany Tech right into the conversation among the best teams in the region, but they will face possibly their toughest test today when they step on the court with

Darton’s feisty, in-your-face defense.

“We are going to need to do a good job of knowing where those two players are all the time,” Henry said. “They are going to get their points, and they are going to do their job. But we need to make it difficult.”

Albany Tech coach Kenneth Williams knows his players will need to handle the Lady Cavs’ non-stop pressure.

“They pick up full court and play great man-to-man defense,” Williams said. “They are real disciplined and don’t make a whole lot of mistakes. We will have to play one of our better games of the season.”

And just like the players, Williams has been hearing the hype for tonight’s game.

“The students are really getting into it,” said Williams, who teaches math at Albany Tech. “I have had way more people come up to me and mention this game than I have all season.”

Fennessee can’t wait to step on the court in front of what she expects to be a packed gym.

“It’s one of the most exciting games of the season. We are in the same city, and we know each other,” Fennessee said. “All I’m hearing is that we are going to get beat and that they are ready. Well, we’re saying the same thing.”