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December 7, 2013

Cook Hornets hoops squads off to fast start

TIFTON — The Cook Hornets and Lady Hornets are a few games into their 2013-14 seasons and both coaches are thrilled about what they have seen so far.

The girls, coached by Clemmie Foster and who were 5-1 after Friday night's game, have made the state tournament past two years and look primed to top last season's 12-17 mark.

Veteran coach Tommy Blackshear, whose face is well familiar to area rooters, leads the boys. He has taken them to seven straight tournament appearances, with a 19-10 record last year. Not shabby for a team that had been to state only five times total before his arrival.

Foster has had an extra reason to smile about the hot start. The Lady Hornets upset the Tift County Lady Devils in overtime on Nov. 25, 68-64. Tift came in as the No. 3 ranked team in Class AAAAAA.

Even better, she said it was their first win over the Lady Devils during her coaching tenure.

The Lady  Hornets are a young team, with just a trio of seniors on the roster, Elesha Foster, Lakeydah Zackery and Precious Walls. All three start. Foster had 17 against Tift and Zackery added 15. They averaged 17 and 5.3 points per game, respectively, last year.

She is also getting solid play out of her other starters, Jade Newsome and junior Mercedes Clowers.

Foster said one of the keys has been their familiarity. "They've been playing together quite a long time," she said.

That has even led to her developing a motto for them.

"Play hard, play smart, play together."

Blackshear is not one for making predictions at the moment.

"I don't know what to expect," he said. "This is the youngest team I've had in some time." He has only two seniors.

So far, so good. They have a big win over Lowndes to their credit. "That gave me a little hope," he said.

He said his seniors, Jarrod Franklin and Calenta Jackson, are his best leadership. The end of the football season has also helped to fill out the roster. Jeremiah Smith and Tray Jackson will be among his best players.

"I was pleased with Jeremiah's game against Lowndes, and against Lanier, Trey played extremely well."

Cook received quite a shock a few days ago when the GHSA announced new regions — "an unpleasant surprise," according to Blackshear. They will be a Class AAAA program beginning in the fall of 2014.

The school, which has historically been Class AA, had the numbers to be AAA. That was also the case two years ago, but isolation from other AAA teams caused the league to move them back to AA. The isolation was the same this time, but instead of going back to their old region or making do in AAA, they were put in the bigger division.

"It's going to be tough," said Foster. "That's a big step."

Perhaps too much of one for Blackshear, who will find himself in one of the deepest hoops regions in the state. He began listing his future opponents, all of whom have outstanding histories: Albany, Westover, Dougherty and Thomas County Central. That's not forgetting Monroe, Crisp County and Bainbridge.

"We still don't know how they put us there," he said.

Until then, both teams have a full schedule in front of them.

Friday, they hosted Valdosta, a game he saw as a measuring stick for his players. Valdosta won that battle, 74-47. The girls suffered their first defeat, 69-45.

 They make a return trip Tuesday for a 6 p.m. contest. Next Friday finds them at Echols County and Saturday they will be at Lanier County. Dec. 20-21, they will be hosting the Hornet Classic.

 

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