For the past few years, the Sonoraville High School girls basketball team has known nothing but success, including playoff success.

Since the 2017-2018 season, they have won 87 games or almost 22 a year.

The Phoenix were 23-9 in 2018-19 and reached the Final Four that year.

They were 23-7 in 2019-20 and 23-5 last year, making it to the Elite Eight round of the state playoffs each season while also winning a pair of AAA Region championships in that time.

Last year, they won 10 of their last 11 games, including first- and second-round playoff contests before falling to Augusta Cross Creek at the Furnace to close the year with an outstanding 23-5 record.

“We’ve got a lot of growing to do with this group because we graduated eight seniors from last year,” Sonoraville girls head basketball coach Stephanie Caudell said minutes after her team defeated Model, 43-33 in the Thanksgiving Classic at Armuchee High School. “They are aware of that tradition and I think that’s important and our goal is always to get to the state championship game, but I don’t think that what we’ve done in the past puts any added pressure on them. This group is so young that right now, they have to make their own way and become their own team. But right now, we’re just focused on today and tomorrow. Being the best team we can be today and improving on that tomorrow. It’s a long marathon of a season and we’re a long way from the start of playoffs or anything like that, so these girls have just got to keep working as hard as they can, just like the groups we’ve had the past few years.”

She said while the expectations are there, there will be times they look good and times they don’t look so good because this year’s group is practically all newbies.

“A lot of these kids don’t have varsity experience, so they’re learning on the fly right now,” Caudell said. “But they’re all giving a great effort every day in practice and in our first couple of games and that’s all you can ask for right now.”

So they are back at it once, expecting to be not only a big player in the Region but even after that, where Caudell and her team are 7-3 in the GHSA AAA playoffs in the last three years.

Over the past few years, the Phoenix coaching staff has been great at figuring out how to replace the talented group that just left and that is the situation they are currently facing once again.

For example, two years ago, they had Region MVP and All-State player Mayilah Parks graduate and everyone wondered who would fill the shoes of a player that took them to the Final Four.

But last year, on the strength of some outstanding seniors like guards Abby Chambers, Alexa Geary and Lindsay Bowman, the Phoenix were right back in the hunt for a region title in February and then a state title in March.

Now athletic players like guard Kayleigh Kelley and postperson Diana Smith and forward Camden Steely are being asked to fill those shoes and take and make the big shots like the groups before them.

Point guard KK Lyles, forward Brynley Walraven, Kelley, Smith, and Steely were the five starters in the team’s first two games this fall, but Caudell made it clear with such a young team, that the starting five could change due to circumstances.

Kelley and Smith really shined early with Kelley taking on the role of leading scorer while Smith was all over the glass at both ends.

“They’re two juniors who have some varsity experience, so they have to be leaders for us,” Caudell said. “Kayleigh’s just a good athlete and a good offensive player. Diana is an excellent offensive rebounder. She’s not real tall in there, but she is smart and tough and knows how to use her body to get inside position, so we need them both to be two of our leaders.”

Caudell said she likes what she has seen from her team at the defensive end, but they are still searching to see what type of team they actually are.

“I do think we have played good defense the first couple of games, but we’re still trying to find our identity offensively,” she said. “”I think the girls are still trying to figure it out. I know we as the coaches are still trying to figure it out. But I think right now, the big thing is, they each do their job and do it to the best of their ability to help the team win.”

She has a big roster with 15 players and she used them all the first couple of outings to see who the gamers were. So it does seem she will be able each night to play at least eight or nine girls , if not more, going forward.

Guard Jovanna Sicairos, forward Kerra McAfee, freshman guard Erin Garland, forward Kaydence Turner, forward Jaylin Walker, post player Catie Hulsey, forward Ella Kate Walraven, post Layla Townsend, guard Anleigh Shirley, and forward Sophie Townsend are the other players on the team and all could definitely get minutes in the future if they continue to hustle on the court and develop the way Caudell would like for them too.

The team began the year with a 33-29 loss to fellow Region 6 member Adairsville in the first day of the Armuchee Thanksgiving Classic before bouncing back 48 hours to jolt Model.

The Yellow Jackets will start Region 6 play on Tuesday, Dec. 7 at Rockmart and have five league games in 10 days before the Christmas break begins with the last one scheduled for Friday, Dec. 17 when they are at LaFayette.

They are in a tournament over the Christmas break, starting on Dec. 28 and then pick league play back up on Tuesday, Jan. 4 at The Furnace against North Murray.

Sonoraville girls 2021-22 schedule

Dec. 3 at Northwest Whitfield, 7 p.m.

Dec. 7 at Rockmart, 6 p.m.

Dec. 10 vs. Coahulla Creek, 7 p.m.

Dec. 11 at Adairsville, 7 p.m.

Dec. 14 vs. LFO, 6 p.m.

Dec. 17 at LaFayette, 7 p.m.

Dec. 28 vs. White County, 4 p.m.

Jan. 4 vs. N. Murray, 6 p.m.

Jan. 7 at Murray Co., 7 p.m.

Jan. 11 at Ringgold, 6 p.m.

Jan. 14 vs. Northwest Whitfield, 7 p.m.

Jan. 18 vs. Rockmart, 6 p.m.

Jan. 21 at Coahulla Creek, 7 p.m.

Jan. 25 vs. Adairsville, 6 p.m.

Jan. 28 at LFO, 7 p.m.

Feb. 1 vs. LaFayette, 6 p.m.

Feb. 4 at N. Murray, 7 p.m.

Feb. 8 vs. Murray Co., 6 p.m.

Feb. 11 vs. Ringgold, 7 p.m.

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