Cass looks to break through and make state

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The Cass High girls basketball team has set three goals in the first two years head coach Burt Jackson has been at the helm—have a winning record, win Bartow County and make the state tournament.

The Lady Colonels accomplished each of the first two goals in the first two seasons, going a combined 30-22 and 10-1 in county.

The one goal they have not yet met is to make the state tournament, something a girls team at Cass hasn’t done since 2006.

However, with the team’s top four scorers returning from last season, Jackson likes his team’s chance to finally make state. The Lady Colonels begin their quest to make the playoffs today against Armuchee at Cass High.

“We’re happy that we met those goals, but we haven’t made state,” Jackson said. “We’re not as worried about our wins and losses as much as making state. In the past two years, we’ve been in a 14-team region, which makes it pretty tough. This year, we’re in a nine-team region, which means all we have to do is win our first-round region tournament game and we qualify for the state tournament. We feel like we have a chance.”

Those chances are boosted by the return of senior point guard Jana Morning, who was named The 2015-16 Daily Tribune News All-County Player of the Year after averaging 12 points, 5.2 assists and 2.3 steals per game.

Morning, a penetrating lead guard, will be flanked by shooters, as Esmeralda Thomas and her 11.8 points per game will team up with another all-county selection, Payton Stoddard, as well as Kyla Michienzi to space the floor in Cass’ four-guard look. 

“I feel like we’re going to be a fast-paced team,” Jackson said. “We’re going to try to get out and run. We have a lot of shooters.”

While Cass enjoyed the benefit of Morning, Thomas, Stoddard and Michienzi’s game last year, Jackson believes six-foot Chanel Clemons is ready to step up and become a force in the paint. Clemons, along with forward Lyric Curtis, gives the Lady Colonels a well-balanced roster and some versatility to go a little bigger at times.

“We feel like we will be able to go inside when we need to,” Jackson said. “Chanel Clemons is going to be a force inside blocking shots and rebounding and, of course, that’ll facilitate our break.”

In addition to Thomas, Stoddard and Michienzi, Cass will have some more shooting depth off the bench with Sharia Wade, who was the leading scorer on the JV team last year.

The added depth will be important with a more competitive non-region schedule. There are several 6A schools on the schedule, as well as some competitive lower-classification schools.

However, the Lady Colonels faced similar teams over the summer and went 10-6. Jackson is hoping the tough non-region slate will prepare his team for the region season and the ultimate goal of making the state tournament.

“We purposely played very tough competition this summer to see if that would help us get better faster,” Jackson said. “The quality of the competition as far as our schedule is extremely tough early. So it may not look good as far as wins and losses, but at the end of the day, if you look at the big picture, it’ll get us prepared for the region tournament and hopefully that will translate to us going to the state tournament this year.”