Photo by Heather Middleton
By Brian Paglia
No, they are not that Drew.
Candence Jackson isn't the girls basketball coach at Drew Charter School in Atlanta. That Drew isn't even a high school.
But Jackson has heard that a lot since the Lady Titans won the Region 4-AAA championship and earned the two-year program's first state tournament appearance in school history. She said most people don't even know where Drew is located.
The Lady Titans are one of three Southern Crescent squads in the state tournament for the first time in school history. They'll host Westside-Macon on Friday in the Class AAA first round.
The Woodland girls made the Class AAAA tournament for the first time in school history out of Region 3-AAAA. The fourth-year school travels to play Warner Robins on Friday. Drew's boys team also makes its state tournament debut when it hosts Baldwin.
They'll be playing with rosters bereft of state playoff experience that are unaccustomed to its atmosphere and pressure.
"I'm not so much worried about how we will do," Jackson said, "but just concerned that I have ninth-, tenth- and eleventh-graders that don't have any playoff experience."
Jackson can look to the seven teams in Georgia that played in their first state tournament in school history last season for precedent. Those schools combined to go 2-7 and no team advanced past the second round.
But one of those wins came from a Southern Crescent team. Dutchtown's boys won a first-round game at home in their first-ever state tournament appearance. The Bulldogs fell in the second round at Richmond Academy.
Neither Drew team squeaked into the tournament. The boys advanced to the Region 4-AAA championship game and eventually lost to Eagle's Landing. The girls made a surprise run through the region tournament, culminating in a 53-52 victory over Eastside in the championship game.
"We know we can compete," Jackson said. "Throughout the course of the season we have slowly gained the respect of our opponents."
Regardless of the outcome, the experience gained will be valuable down the road. Neither Drew team has a senior on the roster, and the Woodland girls have just one, which ostensibly sets up the Southern Crescent's first-timers nicely for next season.
"This is huge for us," Jackson said. "This is something we can build on. I think we are a fast-growing program that should get better next season."
Staff writer Derrick Mahone contributed to this story.