The new year brings a new level of focus for high school basketball teams as the region schedule gets underway.
Heritage and Rockdale kicked things off in the Region 8-AAAA slate Friday night with matchups against Cedar Shoals and Loganville, respectively.
The two teams take a brief break from region play today before everybody gets things going on Tuesday.
Heritage gets things going with an inter-county rivalry game against one of the region's best teams this far in the season.
The Salem Seminoles' first region game is Tuesday, hosting the Patriots.
The Salem girls' team comes in, tied with Rockdale for second place. Both teams have just one loss, the same as Cedar Shoals, which is in first place with 12 wins.
Salem had its best start in school history, opening the season with nine wins in a row. During their winning streak, the Lady Seminoles held all of its opponents to fewer than 40 points.
Salem was handed its first loss of the season, on Dec. 20 to Central Gwinnett, 43-34. However, the Lady Seminoles quickly recovered defeating Chapel Hill 50-34.
The Lady Seminoles' first region opponent, Heritage, has a region record of 9-4, putting it behind the Lady Bulldogs and Salem.
Heritage had won three straight before Friday's game against Cedar Shoals, defeating Winder-Barrow and Walnut Grove in the Walnut Grove Holiday Tournament, before beating North Oconee Friday.
The Lady Patriots defeated Winder-Barrow 49-24 on Dec. 28, Walnut Grove 56-47 on Dec. 29 and North Oconee 30-27 on Dec. 30.
The Lady Bulldogs picked up their only loss on Dec. 20, falling 57-48 to JL Mann, of South Carolina. They were, however, able to rebound against Tucker, winning 48-35 on Tuesday. Brianna Lawrence had 10 points and six steals and Breanna Richardson added 12 points and seven rebounds as Rockdale got back to its winning ways. Kree Clark had 17 rebounds and nine points in the win over the Tigers.
Prior to losing to JL Mann, Rockdale won nine straight, scoring more than 60 points in six games. The Lady Bulldogs closest win was a 58-56 double overtime win over Peachtree Ridge on Dec. 13. Richardson led the way with 24 points and 15 rebounds, and Clark also had a double-double with 10 points and 14 rebounds.
On the boys' side, Salem and Rockdale are still the area's top two teams, with the Salem Seminoles going 10-2, giving the school two top-two teams.
The Seminoles were the third area team to start things off with a big winning streak, picking up five straight victories, including an 89-78 win over Henry County and an 87-46 win over Lumpkin County to begin the season.
Salem then suffered its first loss, 79-63, to Thomson on Dec. 2. From there, Salem reeled off another streak of five straight losses, beating Henry County 82-61 to begin the streak. After defeating Johnson, Savannah 60-57 on Dec. 17, Salem fell to Savannah 40-57 on Dec. 19. Salem looks to once again start another winning streak today against Osborne, before taking on Heritage on Tuesday.
Heritage has had the most struggles of the three area teams thus far, amassing a 2-8 record. The Patriots, starting with a completely new team, won its first game, 56-54 to Dutchtown, before suffering back-to-back losses. Heritage then beat Duluth 42-39, for its only other win of the season on Nov. 26. Since then the Patriots have lost five straight, including two in the Houston County Bear Brawl.
The Patriots then fell to Ola 60-56 on Dec. 29 before facing Cedar Shoals on Friday night.
Rockdale is looking to use the region schedule to spring board itself back to the top. The Bulldogs are 7-5, a season after reaching the state championship.
Rockdale fell to Miller Grove to finish second in 2011 and then lost several key players to graduation. Starters Kevin Ware, Bernard Thompson and DeShaun Sunderhaus are now playing in college, while Darion Clark transferred to Oak Hill Academy in Virginia.
In the 2011-12 season, the Bulldogs started things off with an 85-82 overtime win against Collins Hill, before beating Spalding 74-55. The Bulldogs then suffered back-to-back losses, before reeling off five straight wins.
Before Friday night's game Rockdale had lost three straight, with two coming against Class AAAA opponents. The Bulldogs fell to Jonesboro 60-55 on Dec. 30, Shiloh, 87-77 on Dec. 31 and Tucker, 73-61, on Tuesday.
All six local teams still have a chance at the playoffs, with Salem and Rockdale looking toward the region slate for another playoff appearance and a shot at the area's top seed.