The way the Monroe girls celebrated after being the first team to beat Westover earlier this season is the same way the Lady Tornadoes hope to be celebrating today after facing state power and No. 1-ranked Washington County in the GHSA Class AAA Elite 8.
MILLEDGEVILLE — Monroe loaded up its bus late Friday afternoon and made the three-hour drive to Milledgeville for today’s Class AAA Elite 8 game against Washington County.
It’s a trip that Monroe coach Cheryl Cheeks has expected to make all season.
“It’s no surprise to me that we are here,” Cheeks said. “We have great confidence, and we worked hard just like every other team in our region. So why not us?”
Why not Monroe?
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WHO: Monroe girls (20-8) vs. Washington County (29-0).
WHEN: 4 p.m. today.
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That might as well be the slogan for the Lady Tornadoes (20-8), who have finished their season with a bang. After knocking off an undefeated Westover team at the end of the regular season, they upset a pair of higher seeds (No. 2 Rutland and No. 1 Sandy Creek) in the first two rounds of the Class AAA State Tournament.
And just before she stepped on the bus Friday afternoon, Cheeks said the Lady Tornadoes weren’t done yet.
“It’s win or go home, and we deserve to be in this position,” she said. “I have always known we are capable of being here.”
Unfortunately for the Lady Tornadoes, the No. 1 team in the state stands between them and a trip to the Final Four. Defending state champion Washington County is riding a 61-game winning streak and will carry the momentum from Tuesday’s 57-46 win against Westover into today’s 4 p.m. game against Monroe at Georgia College and State University.
Washington County (29-0) has been ranked No. 1 in the state poll for the last two seasons and has looked unbeatable.
“That’s what you say,” said Cheeks when asked about a Washington County team hasn’t lost since March 3, 2010, when it fell in the second round of the state tournament to Spalding, 64-57. “Every team is tough if you ask me. They are just like we are. They play the game of basketball.”
Washington County has been blowing teams out all season and had won each of its games by at least 12 points until Westover finished within 11 points earlier in the week. The Lady Hawks have been powered all season by arguably the best girls player in the state — 6-foot guard Allisha Gray, who entered Tuesday’s game against Westover shooting 85 percent from the field and averaging 31.8 points and almost 10 rebounds a game.
Monroe has rallied around its defense all season and will look for its man-to-man attack to slow down Gray.
“We may slow her down, we may not,” Cheeks said. “We just have to go out there and play tough defense. Our focus is on ourselves. We just have to go out there, play hard and leave everything on the floor. There is no tomorrow if you don’t leave everything on the floor.”
The Lady Tornadoes will try to counter Gray with a number of players who have the potential to go off on the stat sheet. Freshman KeyKey Price had a big first-round game against Rutland — leading Monroe with 16 points — and Cheeks believes she could be the next big star in Southwest Georgia. Then there’s the always-dangerous Herald Super 6er Sheniqua Young, who has led Monroe all year but has struggled some in the playoffs. If she gets hot today, it could be Young and Gray trading baskets all afternoon. Kizzie Coleman led Monroe in its last game with 10 points, and Westover transfer Cessily Colwell has also come up big at times this year for the Lady Tornadoes.
“They’re all gonna to have a good game (today),” Cheeks said. “All of the young ladies have to play a big part to be successful. We play as a team.”
If Monroe is able to knock off Washington County, the Lady Tornadoes will head to Macon on Friday for a Final Four showdown between either North Hall or Allatoona at 4 p.m. in the Macon Centreplex.