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Holy Innocents’ girls seek return to final four
by Greg Oshust
November 20, 2013 12:03 PM | 966 views | 0 0 comments | 29 29 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Staff / Samantha M. Shal / Holy Innocents' guard Chelsea Zoller drives in for a layup during practice.
Staff / Samantha M. Shal / Holy Innocents' guard Chelsea Zoller drives in for a layup during practice.
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After several years in a row of early eliminations from the state girls’ basketball playoffs, Holy Innocents’ finally broke through with a trip to the Class A private school semifinals last year.

Equaling or surpassing that performance will be the challenge for a younger Lady Bear squad as it begins the 2013-14 season.

The ’12-13 campaign was a memorable one for a Holy Innocents’ team that went 24-6, won the Region 5A championship and fell just one game short of making it to the Class A private school girls’ finals after a 78-43 loss to eventual runner-up Southwest Atlanta Christian.

“We finally won a region championship, the first one we actually got a chance to play for,” Holy Innocents’ coach Tony Watkins said. “We made the state playoffs five years in a row, but the difference was we were always seeded third or fourth in the region and we finally won our region and won some state playoff games — whereas in the previous years, we always lost in the first round, so that got us over the hump and helped us take it a step forward.”

Achieving the heights of a year ago might be more difficult for a Lady Bear squad that lost four seniors from last winter’s final four unit and features nine underclassmen.

It won’t be quite like starting from scratch for Holy Innocents’, however, as most of its current 10th-graders played key roles in its deep ’12-13 postseason run.

“The good thing is, all of the sophomores have been playing with us for a while and they got plenty of time and got some good minutes last year,” Watkins said. “We have some freshmen who are really talented and are ready to step in and play. Once they just get used to playing all together, we can be successful. They have played a lot of basketball, so it’s not like they are new to the game.”

Six-foot-2 center Lexii Cassell is the lone senior on the young Holy Innocents’ squad and the Murray State signee is expected to play a big leadership role.

Also stepping up to a leadership position is 5-11 junior forward Rachel Morton, the only other upperclassmen on the roster.

Holy Innocents’ will be missing a key component of last year’s success for the first month of the season as 6-foot-2 sophomore center Erika Cassell is expected to be out until after Christmas as she recovers from a torn ACL.

“She was our leading scorer and rebounder last year,” Watkins said. “So obviously, that’s pretty important. But it will be a great test for the rest of our players playing without her at the beginning of the season and everybody picking up a little bit of slack.”

Five-foot-9 guard Sydney Long, 5-9 guard Chelsea Zoller and 5-7 guard Aailyah Milford are the other key returning sophomores who helped the Lady Bears achieve their state semifinal finish as freshmen last year.

Holy Innocents’ also has two freshmen who are expected to step in and contribute immediately in 5-6 guard Shai Blanding and 5-9 guard Khayla Porter.

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