Some of the area’s schools will have some new leadership this season as the prep basketball season gets underway.
Emily Claytor takes over as the head coach for the Pepperell girls’ team after serving as an assistant for the past two seasons. As an athlete, she played for the Lady Dragons from 2001-2005 under Jeff Rickman, whom she replaced as head coach.
Claytor coached at Trion and Unity Christian, where she led the Lady Lions to their third and fourth straight GICAA Division 1-A North region championships.
With seven of 11 players underclassmen, Claytor is expecting a lot from her team.
“We will be relying on some young players to make an automatic impact at the varsity level,” Claytor said. “We also are dealing with some injuries already this season.”
Darlington boys’ coach Nathan West is new to the area, coming to the Tigers from Franklin County High School in Eastpoint, Florida, where he was the head boys’ basketball coach for the 2017 and 2018 seasons. While there, he accumulated a record of 33-26.
West led the Seahawks to a 20-9 record this past season and a spot in the semifinals of the state playoffs.
Rome High didn’t look far to find its new boys’ coach when the school named Terry Smith as the leader of the program back in April after he served as an assistant coach for the 2018 season.
As an assistant, Smith saw the Rome High boys come out of the regular season as the No. 4 seed in Region 7-5A and upset Riverwood in the opening round of the Class 5A state playoffs before coming up just short of Lithonia in the second round, 67-64.
On the other end of the coaching spectrum, Sally Echols returns for her 15th season as Model’s girls’ coach after leading the Lady Blue Devils to the Class AA Final Four for the third straight season.
Model finished last season with a 23-8 overall record after overcoming a rocky start to the year. After entering the playoffs as the No. 3 seed, the Lady Blue Devils came up with three straight upsets against higher-seeded opponents to make it to the semifinals.
While the Lady Blue Devils lose some key seniors from last year’s team, a core group of returning players will help lead Model as the team tries to build on its many years of success.
“This group loves each other and wants to perform for each other,” Echols said. “We’re mostly a junior-senior group, but I’m excited about seeing some of our bench players step up.”