Freshman Kadayasha Jones is one of seven players averaging at least seven points for the Lady Cavs, who enter the Region XVII tournament winners of 17 of their last 18 games.
Darton star guard Mitchell, coach Henry honored with top Region XVII awards
ALBANY — Michelle Mitchell took the Lady Cavs to the top of Region XVII this season — and the league took notice.
Mitchell, the star sophomore from Eastman, was named the Region XVII Player of the Year on Monday after averaging 16.2 points per game and leading Darton to records of 26-3 overall and 18-2 in the region.
“It’s a well-deserved honor and a great recognition for both her and our program,” Darton coach Lea Henry said. “I am really proud of her. Michelle has been the go-to player for us. She scores, rebounds, defends. She does it all and has been consistent. And her work ethic has been tremendous.”
Henry, who is in her second year at Darton, was also named the Region XVII Coach of the Year after guiding the Lady Cavs to the No. 1 seed in the region tournament and a school-record No. 12 ranking in the nation.
Henry, a long-time Division I coach at Georgia State and Mercer, was named Georgia College Division I Coach of the Year three times while at Georgia State, but Monday’s honor was her first at the junior college level.
“We are proud of what we have going here at Darton,” Henry said. “The key is that we have been able to get very talented, committed and hard-working young ladies into the program. That’s what has made this happen. We have been fortunate to get great talent.”
No on has been more talented than Mitchell, who also averages 7.1 rebounds per game and shoots 48.6 percent from the floor.
“Every game there are Division I scouts here to watch her,” Henry said. “She is getting a lot of great recognition, and so is our program. Our young players are getting seen by those Division I schools, too. She is going to have to make a decision soon, because she is going to be getting offers from all over the board in Division I.”
Darton sophomore Chanteniece Fann, who averages 11.2 points and 5.6 rebounds, was named 2nd-Team All-Region.
Mitchell and Taylor Hall were also named to the Academic All-Region team.
SGTC’S BLACKBURN HONORED: South Georgia Technical College freshman forward Nikkei Blackburn, a native of Bennettsville, S.C., was named 2nd-Team All-Region
Blackburn, a 6-foot forward, is ranked No. 2 in the nation in rebounding, averaging 13.8 per game.
She also averages 12.4 points and 1.8 blocks per game.
ALBANY — Pressure? What pressure?
The Darton Lady Cavs are right where they want to be and loving every minute of it.
Riding momentum from their first Region XVII regular season title since 2009 and winners of 17 of their last 18 games, the nationally-ranked No. 12 Lady Cavs (26-3, 18-2) are the clear-cut favorites in this week’s region tournament, which begins today with an opening round game against city rival Albany Tech.
“I don’t think you even think about the pressure or about losing,” second-year coach Lea Henry said. “We have had a great year. You don’t want to have any regrets, but I don’t think we will.”
No pressure, no regrets, no worries.
There’s just a whole lot of confidence floating around the Darton gym, where the No. 1 seed Lady Cavs haven’t lost in 14 games this season and could make it 17-0 with a region title.
“We will need to shoot the ball well and play great defense to keep our streak going,” Darton star forward and Region XVII Player of the Year Michelle Mitchell said, “but we have been doing that all year, so that’s not going to be a problem.”
The Lady Cavs haven’t lost since Jan. 23 when they fell by three points to No. 2 seed Central Georgia Tech, and they haven’t lost by more than seven points all season.
It’s been an incredible run, but nobody likes to run more than the Lady Cavs, who score 71 points per game and push the tempo on nearly every possession.
“Yeah, the other teams get tired,” Darton freshman point guard Jasmine Wilson said. “But the more tired they get, the more we start running.”
And the more the Lady Cavs run, the farther they seem to distance themselves from the rest of the region.
In Darton’s past 16 wins, only two have been by fewer than 10 points, and they were both to No. 3 seed Georgia Highlands.
The Lady Cavs will likely meet either Chattahoochee Tech or Central Georgia Tech — a pair of dangerous teams that have identical records of 15-5 in the region — if they make it to Saturday’s final.
A run to the championship game will no doubt be fueled by Mitchell, a 5-foot-9 sophomore who is averaging 16.2 points per game and is being courted by some of the area’s top Division I teams.
“Michelle has played well for us in big games,” Henry said. “And she has a good cast around her, too. That’s what is making this team successful. We aren’t just a one-woman show.”
Seven players average at least seven points for the Lady Cavs, including Chanteniece Fann (11.2), Shronica Weaver (9.3), Wilson (8.6), Iesha Bonner (8.3), Tamarah Fisher (8.0) and Kadayasha Jones (7.5).
“We have other players who can put up big numbers, and we have players who fulfill their roles,” Henry said. “I think there is a consistency right now with how all of our kids are playing.”
Albany Tech Lady Titans
Albany Tech women’s basketball coach Kenneth Williams has heard the adage that it’s tough to beat a team three times in a season.
He’s just not sure if that applies to the No. 1 seed Darton Lady Cavs.
Williams’ Lady Titans (15-15) limp into the Region XVII tournament as the No. 8 seed and with a region record of 8-12, which includes two blowout losses to Darton.
“Beating Darton is going to be a tough task,” Williams said. “I know a lot of people say it’s hard to beat a team three times in a season, but usually that’s when the games have been competitive. This will be a tough task for us. We just have to play the right way.”
Albany Tech, which lost to Darton by 19 points on Feb. 13 and by 22 points back on Dec. 12, will likely be without starting guard Ashley Towns for the tournament. Towns, the team’s second-leading scorer, injured her knee last week — just the latest injury for an Albany Tech team that has been crippled by injuries this season.
In the season’s first matchup between Albany Tech and Darton, Lady Titans’ leading scorer Lashay Lettingham was sidelined with a back injury. She is healthy now, and Williams needs his sophomore guard to be as dominant as ever against a Darton team that hasn’t lost at home all season.
“We are going to have to put in plays to get her more baskets and get her open,” Williams said of Lettingham, who averages 15.3 points per game.
South Georgia Tech Lady Jets
In the midst of its longest winning streak of the season, South Georgia Tech enters the tournament as one of the hottest teams in the region.
The Lady Jets (19-11, 12-8) jumped from the No. 7 seed to the No. 5 seed in the final two weeks of the regular season and open the tournament today vs. No. 4 Georgia Highlands.
The last team to beat SGTC was No. 3 seed Chattahoochee Tech in a 65-61 decision Feb. 9 in Americus. Since then, the Lady Jets have reeled off four straight wins and have won those games by an average of 15.5 points.
“We feel good about the way we are carrying ourselves,” SGTC coach James Frey said, “but I don’t think by a long shot we have played as good as we can.”
Frey had to largely rebuild this year’s team from scratch after former coach Brandan Harrell left to start the program at Georgia Highlands after last season and took key players with him.
As a result, three South Georgia Tech starters — Nikkei Blackburn, Rasheda Patterson and Kadriana Howard — are freshmen, but the young trio has only gotten better as the year has progressed.
“It took them a little while to catch on to the speed of the college game, but right now they have bought into what we are doing,” Frey said.
Portia McCray leads SGTC in scoring at 13.4 points per game, while Blackburn averages 12.4 and has scored in double figures in seven of her last eight games.