In fact, the Crusaders (20-8 last season) should be just as good, if not a bit better, than they were last season. Why? They return four seniors — guards Matthew Hammond and Chad Bankston and forwards Elias Seise and Austin Gill — who got extensive playing time last season and look to be ready to lead the team and they’ve got some younger players who also got playing time on the team’s first-ever state playoff run last season and are capable of stepping it up even further this year.
“Even though we lost about four senior starters, this crew should fare pretty well. The guys did well over the summer, playing at a Clayton State summer league and also YBOA ball, so they’re ready for the season,” Savage said. “The current seniors should be battle-tested and ready and the sophomores, Wil Savage and Jonathan Hammond, are just as prepared as the upperclassmen to get the job done. We even have some freshmen who can contribute and about six eighth-graders who will keep the ball rolling along.”
Replacing Lewis, a 1,000-point scorer at GCHS, won’t be easy but coach Savage feels Matthew Hammond can do the job pushing the up-tempo pace he wants to run on offense.
“Matt will be our point guard and we'll look to him to set the tone and push the ball upcourt,” he said. “I have complete confidence he’ll be the engine to get us running like Anthony was.”
Despite the loss of Neidert, who at 6-foot-4 led the team in blocked shots and ranked high in the GISA in that category, coach Savage feels the team has an intimidation factor as far as height’s concerned.
“Austin is 6-5 and Elias is a shade under 6-3. Also we’ll have football guys David Thomas and Hunter Ott, both 6-3, who’ll come out for us again as well so we will feature some height,” Savage said. “In fact, I believe this will be the tallest team we’ve had in a while here at GCHS.”
Once again, the Crusaders will have a tough schedule. They face all three of the Macon schools and Arlington Christian again and will open up their home schedule with a bout against GISA Class AAA state champion Mt. Vernon on Nov. 18. The Crusaders’ opening game of the season will be on the road Nov. 15 versus The Weber School, the team GCHS beat 56-38 in the first round of the GISA state playoffs last year.
“We’ll have to bring it every night in our region,” coach Savage said.
Bringing it every night — especially on the defensive end — will be the charge for the Lady Crusaders this season. They lost their last 12 games of the season last year to fall to 3-22 overall, but new head coach David Hammond said he’s ready to put the past behind him and start fresh this year. And along with the fresh start is a new approach — defense.
“I told the girls that I want them to be better on the defensive end this season and not to turn the ball over on offense so much. If we do those things, we can be in the game,” Hammond said. “If we’re in the game, there’s a chance we can win the game at the end.”
Hammond said the girls, who have sported pretty bad records the last few years, have bought into his philosophy and are in “good shape and ready to play even harder this year.” The Lady Crusaders told Hammond they are ready to win and will definitely focus on defense this year.
They will have to be strong on defense and careful with the basketball in this tough region, especially with the loss of their two best offensive and defensive players in Caroline Smith and Brittany Foster. Smith has graduated and Foster, a junior, is concentrating on volleyball so GCHS will also be without its tallest players and leading rebounders as well. Juniors Leyah Brown and Hannah Branham will be looked upon to score, for the most part, and others like sophomore Savannah Newman and freshmen Abby Bankston, Brittany Brogdon and Lily Hammond will be asked to contribute heavily this season.
The Crusaders will host an Alumni Basketball Game on Friday, Nov. 11 at 7:30 p.m. Several of the former Crusaders basketball players will play the current Crusaders in a game that should feature plenty of excitement. There will also be a slam-dunk contest and many other events so all are asked to come out and support GCHS that evening.