Photo by Heather Middleton
By Brian Paglia
After Forest Park lost to Southwest DeKalb in the Class AAAA semifinals a year ago, the Lady Panthers came into this season encouraged by its prospects to return to the Arena at the Gwinnett Center knowing they would return its entire roster intact.
Perhaps Forest Park's only question marks entering the season were finding a new point guard and meeting new expectations.
The Lady Panthers quickly resolved both questions. Freshman Kayla Potts seized the starting point guard role, while Forest Park advanced to the Class AAAA championship, losing 55-45 to Fayette County.
Forest Park will go into the 2011-12 season with similar question marks, but to a much greater degree.
Instead, of finding a point guard, the Lady Panthers will lose five seniors, including three starters. They'll lose their entire frontcourt of Nikki Wilson and Keyonna Allen, a Presbyterian signee; starting shooting guard Jessica Anderson; and reserve guards Cabrisha
Anderson and Kierra Dennis, a West Georgia signee.
And instead of expectations to return to the semifinals, Forest Park's ostensible goal entering next season will be to return to the Class AAAA finals.
The Lady Panthers, who finished the season 26-6, appear to have the personnel to relieve those concerns, especially in Potts and junior Ashlee Cole, who should again form one of the top backcourt tandems in the state.
Junior small forward Cydni Bivins and sophomore guard Raven Wynn came off the bench during the state tournament to provide boosts at critical moments. Freshman forward Tiffany Wilson played significant minutes throughout the season and should continue to develop in hopes of replacing Allen. All should see their roles increase.
Regardless of Forest Park's personnel questions, the Lady Panthers are sure to see their expectations increase after making the state championship game for the first time since 1970.
Forest Park analysis
The season: The Lady Panthers finished 26-6 and won the Region 4-AAAA championship. Forest Park lost 55-45 to Fayette County in the Class AAAA championship game, its only loss to a team from Georgia all season.
Who Forest Park loses: Among the five seniors Forest Park will lose, forward Nikki Wilson and center Keyonna Allen figure to be the toughest to replace. What Wilson lacked in scoring she more than made up for with rebounding and sheer hustle. The 6-foot-1 Allen gave the Lady Panthers an imposing presence inside.
Who's back: Eight players return, including two starters in junior Ashlee Cole and freshman Kayla Potts, as does a host of key reserves, including Cydni Bivins, Tamara Brewster, Tiffany Wilson and Raven Wynn.
Looking ahead: Cole and Potts should again form one of the top backcourt tandems in the state, while Bivins, Wilson and Wynn should see their roles increase significantly. The Lady Panthers will likely be ranked in the top-5 going into next season with expectations to return to Gwinnett.
By the number: 25-1. Forest Park's record against teams from Georgia.
Coach Steven Cole says: "We're losing five seniors, but we have five juniors right behind them, and of course the two freshmen. So I think we're pretty much going to reload and hopefully we'll see everybody (in the Class AAAA championship) next year."