MONTICELLO, Ga. — The Piedmont Academy varsity girls’ basketball team set out to make program history during the 2020-21 season.
The Lady Cougars did just that.
“We had a great year,” head coach Michael Wilson said. “We wanted to win 20 games, repeat as region champions and make the Final Four. We accomplished all of those. Once we got to the Final Four, we obviously wanted to go further and we are disappointed we didn’t. Overall, the year was still a great success.”
The Lady Cougars (21-4) fell to Westwood, 61-49, in the Class AA state semifinals. Brentwood, the eventual state champion, narrowly defeated Piedmont in both matchups during the regular season.
“Going into the season, I felt we had a chance to do some things that no other girls team at Piedmont had ever done,” Wilson said. “I felt that way because of the senior leadership we had and how hard the girls worked in the offseason. We asked a lot of the girls and they responded. They showed up and they worked and the worked together to achieve our goals. You can’t ask for anything more than that.”
The semifinal loss was tough for the players and coaches to accept after accomplishing so many things to that point in the season.
“I know this team was good enough to win, but it just wasn’t meant to be,” Wilson said. “I’ll definitely take things from that experience for the next time we get there and I know the returning players will too. I know when this program gets its chance t at winning a state championship all the players and lessons from earlier will help us achieve that goal.”
Wilson noted upon his reflection on how the program has advanced and improved in recent years that it has been a truly remarkable journey.
“It’s satisfying as a coach to get tangible results so you can feel satisfaction for the work put in and the improvement made,” he said. “My first two years those teams won 10 games. In the last four, we’ve won 66 games. That’s an amazing turnaround and, quite frankly, I am one of very few people who thought it was possible. The only way something like that is possible is with talented players, of course. However, with all the players, from my first team to now, they had to buy in to the fact that they are playing for something greater than themselves individually.”
The play of the seniors in 2020-21 helped pave the way for a championship region.
“I thought our seniors closed out their careers in a great way," Wilson said. “Coaching a team that has such experienced leaders can be a double-edged sword but this group always listened and always were coachable. We developed a really good level of trust with one another through the years and I think that is important. They knew I would always listen to what they had to say. I might not do it the way they want, but I’d listen. They made my job much easier these last few years with their talent and leadership.”
Each senior had her best season this winter, but each also bought into the team concept.
“Sydney Stroud led the way,” Wilson said. “She did a great job of being a leader during games, practices and in the locker room. Defensively, she is tenacious. I think her ability to get rebounds at her size is greatly underrated. There were multiple games she would fight and claw here way to eight, nine or 10 rebounds, and you can’t coach that effort.”
Senior Jayden Young also was a key player for the team.
“Jayden had her best year by far,” her coach said. “She accepted her role and played as hard as always. She had some of our biggest games for us this year as result. Her 17 points in the region championship game was huge for us because we were having an off night shooting as a team.”
Haley Ann Frank had another strong season on the court and it was just what her coach expected.
“Haley Ann had a typical year for her,” Wilson said. “She brings so much more to the court than scoring. Her presence on defense really affected so many opposing teams and coaches. Many teams were already down before the game started because of her. Where Sydney and Jayden brought the blue-collar fight to the team, Haley Ann brought the energy and when she was on, teams couldn’t handle her.”
The coach knows that trio will be tough to replace. In addition to their scoring, those three brought effort and energy. As eighth graders they won three games but during the next four seasons went 66-37, won two region championship and made the Final Four, raising the bar for the program.
“Maddie Waddleton and Hannah Tyler also stepped up their games this year,” Wilson said. “Maddie became a legitimate offensive threat late in the year and nearly averaged a double-double the last 10-12 games of the season. Hannah’s defense was huge this year for us. In our biggest games she played her best defense. I don’t think we beat Glenwood or John Milledge without her defense and I know we don’t claw our way back and hang with Westwood without her playing the way she played.”
The team's youngest player has already served notice what her career will be like. Eighth grader Marissa Holder was dominant at times despite always competing against older players.
“I knew the talent she has but you never know how that will show up when playing with girls four years older than she is,” her coach said. “It didn’t bother her. Her poise was impressive. She’s a special talent, probably one that nobody before has seen at Piedmont. She’s the only one who can limit her potential. If she keeps working there is no telling how far she can go. She was our primary ball handler later in the season and was able to have more assists than turnovers.
"She averaged a little more than six rebounds a game and 15 points. She made 61 3-pointers this year. The list could go on and on, but what I was most pleased about is how she always looked to pay unselfishly. There were many times in the season I’d get on her about being more aggressive with her shooting. She also handled some of the tough defenses that were thrown her way.”
Other players also were key parts of the success, each one contributing in their own way.
“We got big contribution throughout the year from Teagan Satterfield, Haiden Crews, Bailey Mobley, Mallory Kelly and Abby Arnold,” Wilson said. “This group of girls is going to be leaned on a lot and hopefully the experience they gained this year will help us continue to achieve our goals and be a contender to get back to the Final Four for years to come.”
As much success as the team had, it was still tough to see the season come to a conclusion.
“It’s always sad to see a season end and seniors' careers end, and the better the careers the tougher it becomes,” Wilson said. “These seniors have done so much and have been so fun to coach and watch mature that not having them on the team next year will definitely be odd and take some time to get used to. However, just like the seniors before them who I have missed the next year, a part of them will be on the court with the group next year in how they play.”