By Zach Shugan
ROSWELL, Ga. — The Fellowship Christian girls basketball team is set again for a run in the state playoffs after missing the tournament the past two years.
Fellowship (9-7) overcame a less than ideal start to the 2020-21 season, reeling off five consecutive wins in the middle of the season and eventually finishing as the runner-up in Region 6-A Private. The Paladins earned a two seed in the Class A Private state playoffs, which means they’ll host three-seed Darlington on Tuesday in the first round of the 32-team tournament.
“The girls have worked really hard from the start to the end here,” Fellowship head coach Troy Schulz said following the Paladins’ loss to St. Francis in the region championship game. “We’ve lost a lot of games because of COVID. This was our 15th game of the season, while a lot of schools have had 20-25. We’re kind of coming into our own right here at the end of the season. I think we’ve hit a stride.”
Fellowship defeated Mount Pisgah, 52-33, in the region semifinals, as the Paladins held co-Region Player of the Year Monet Dance to 9 points, well below her average of 30-plus points per game.
“The game to get [to the region championship] was probably one of the best games we’ve played,” Schulz said. “Overall I’m really proud of them for the way we’re playing and way we’re working.”
On the court, the Paladins are led by a pair of All-Region players in juniors Cate Hardin and Kaya Beard.
Hardin, a guard who also stars on the Paladins’ girls soccer team, made the All-Region first team. Hardin is committed to play soccer at Georgia after she graduates in 2022.
“[Hardin] is a spark plug,” Schulz said. “She can go and go and go. I call her the energizer bunny. She has a D1 offer to play soccer at Georgia. That’s where her motor comes from. She’s a constant runner in soccer. When she leaves Fellowship, she will probably be the No. 1 soccer player all-time at our school.”
Beard, a six foot tall forward, made the All-Region second team for her efforts scoring, rebounding and defending.
A few other versatile players round out the Paladins’ starting five in junior Savannah Schulz and freshmen Alden Hayes and Avery Paulson.
Whatever happens in the state playoffs, good or bad, it will only help Fellowship grow moving forward. The Paladins have no seniors on this year’s team, so every play will be back next year, another year wiser, stronger and more experienced.
“It’s super exciting to know we have eight and all eight will be back,” Schulz said. “We have a couple girls who have started working with a trainer and doing some things outside of school basketball. For me that’s one of the most positive things we can have that we have kids doing extra and everybody will be back.”
If the Paladins win in the first round against Darlington, they would play the winner of one-seed Athens Academy and four-seed Galloway in the second round, often dubbed the “Sweet Sixteen.”
In Fellowship’s most recent trip to the state playoffs in 2018, the Paladins defeated Savannah Christian in the first round but were eliminated by eventual state runner-up Holy Innocents’ in the second round.