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July 14, 2014

O’Brien returns to Tiftarea Academy

TIFTON — If the name of John O'Brien, new head girls basketball coach at Tiftarea Academy seems familiar, it is because it is.

This is not O'Brien's first go-around. Not in basketball coaching, not in the county and not even at Tiftarea.

He had the Lady Panthers from 2008-10 and prior to that, spent 13 years as head coach at Tift County High.

"I'm very excited," he said of the chance to return. O'Brien replaces Mike Patrick in the role. Patrick also held the role of athletic director. That slot has been filled by Nita Sparks. He said a combination of Sparks and head football coach Ryan Branch were instrumental in bringing him back.

His connection with Sparks goes back to his first stint at Tiftarea. She was his assistant coach for those two seasons, two excellent ones for the team. O'Brien said the Lady Panthers were 22-6 in his first year and 27-2 in the second. Both times, they advanced to the GISA state final four. He had high praise for Sparks and those years. "We had some good teams," he said. His Tift teams were plenty successful, too, reaching the semifinals in 1992 with a trio of quarterfinals appearances.

While not a new job, he will be getting a new roster. Five players graduated from last year's squad, all starters, and O'Brien said there were no seniors on the upcoming team.

Outside of the seniors, Erin Register and Macy Strenth were the two highest scorers on the team. Several others racked up minutes on the court.

Tiftarea was 13-15 last season. They were the top team in Region 3-AAA going into the region tournament, but dropped their first game to Southland Academy before defeating Brookwood for third place. Forced on the road to start the state tournament, they were defeated by Pinewood Christian, 50-31, in the first round.

The youth does not bother him. He has had a chance to meet with most of the upcoming roster. "I'm pleased with what I've seen," he said.

There is another change, too, from O'Brien's last time in Chula. In 2013, the school unveiled a brand new gymnasium. It has clearly impressed him as his comment on it was "this is a real gym." He might have to make some slight adjustments to game plans, as the floor is college-sized.

"I'm looking forward to being back," he said.

The announced tentative schedule for this season has them playing most of the same schools, even with a bit of a shakeup as to which games count in the region. Realignment has added Valwood, Westwood and Terrell Academy to the hoops region.

Valwood was a regular season opponent last season.

The season is set to start Nov. 18 at Southwest Georgia Academy. The first home game is three days later against Citizens Christian Academy.

 

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20140801 Tift volleyball.JPG

The 2014 Tift County Lady Devils volleyball team. Summer Bennett, Chat Butts, Carolina Carter, Kaleigh Hobby, Molly Jones, Savannah Kendrick, Mariena McCullough, Dail Adaway, Vanity Golson, Alex Miller, Taylor Nimmo, Amanda Riddle, Logan Seeman, Taylor Cross, Karina Delgado, Audrey McElhaney, Madison Spivey, Julianna Cross and Olivia Thomas Assistants are Dana Fletcher and Chance Benson. Head coach is Courtney Mitchell.

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