CONYERS - For the fourth straight season, the Salem girls basketball team recorded another outstanding season under the direction of coach Bill Roberts.
The Lady Seminoles posted a 20-9 record this winter, their fourth straight 20-win season. Salem won the 8-AAAA South subregion title, finished third in the 8-AAAA region tournament and made its fourth straight trip to the Class AAAA state playoffs.
The Lady Seminoles saw their season end with a 66-56 loss to Mays in the first round of the postseason.
Leading the way for the Lady Seminoles was the veteran senior duo of Courtney Hurt and Rebecca Mitchell.
"I felt like we had two veterans in Courtney Hurt and Rebecca Mitchell, and they led and guided us through the season. Rebecca ran the point and Courtney was our go-to scorer," Roberts said. "They made a great combination that was the glue for our team. We were able to get a lot of playing time and experience for a lot of young kids without having to rely heavily on them for scoring. Ten of our 14 players were either freshmen or sophomores."
Naturally, the loss of Hurt and Mitchell to graduation will be Salem's biggest obstacle to overcome heading into next season. Hurt is the school's all-time leading scorer, ending her career with 1,990 points and 1,172 rebounds. She averaged 29 points a game this winter.
"The loss of 40 points a game between the scoring of Courtney and Rebecca will be our biggest loss," Roberts said. "These two will be greatly missed. They have been a big reason for the success of this program over the last few years."
But there's plenty of optimism at Salem for next season. The Lady Seminoles will return three starters from this season - Kentrell White at shooting guard, Ariel Wynter at center and Jaleen Thomas at small forward. All three will be juniors next year.
"We have three starters returning and a young nucleus of kids who garnered some valuable playing time this season on the varsity and the JV," Roberts said. "We should be a team with lots of speed and athleticism. We should be competitive."
Roberts is also looking for good things from Amber Johnson, who started for Mitchell after the senior suffered ankle injury during the holidays. He's also counting on Shardai Harrison and Summer Scott to add speed and athleticism, while NaShay Chamberlain, Jessica Vason, Kristina McCullum, Tia Hill and Jasmine Gray should add depth in the paint.
Over the summer, the Lady Seminoles will start adjusting to life without Hurt and Mitchell.
"The summer will be a time of learning to score and produce without Courtney and Rebecca," Roberts said. "We will stress team defense and intensity."
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.