After making the 2016-17 Class 2A State Championship game, the Rabun County Lady Wildcats had, by their standards, a bit of a down year in 2017-18. Still, any other program would take a third-place region finish with 24 wins and an Elite 8 run, as well as a #2 state ranking mixed in.
For DeeDee Dillard and the Lady Cats, though, last season’s region finish wasn’t what they have grown to expect. This season, while still far from over, is proving that Rabun County refuses to stagnate. The girls are 11-1 and 3-0 in region play. Save a December 15 61-58 thrilling win at Banks County, no game has really been very close so far.
“We’ve had a lot of people step up that have had to step up this year,” says Dillard, a 13th-year veteran coach who has to date 280 wins since her initial 2006-07 season. “We seem to have had more than our fair share this year [of injuries], and it’s been to some pretty key players. You just hurt when your kids hurt. We’re looking for the next man up…who’s going to come in and contribute positively — that’s where we are right now.”
Games like the Banks County win, where the Lady Wildcats were down virtually the entire game until the end, are what sets them above a typical girls basketball program.
“It says a lot [about the mentality of the team],” says senior Brooke Henricks, who missed nearly all of last season with a knee injury. “We went in at halftime knowing that we were going to have to set the tone of the game coming back out, and we did that.”
Henricks, along with fellow senior Georgia Stockton and junior Laken Stiles, have made for perhaps one of the most talented backcourts in Class 2A.
“It’s fun!” exclaims Stockton, a Presbyterian College signee and last year’s BLITZ Player of the Year. “It allows us to play so fast-paced. Laken [Stiles] is so smart — her basketball IQ is so high. That’s fun to play with. And Brooke is so long, and it makes it a fun group, and our bench is so deep, too.”
The trio of talented guards have plenty of others stepping up this season, including Kaitlin Coleman, Destiny Deetz, and many others, as noted by Dillard. This will be much needed, as the Lady Cats have been plagued by injuries this season more than ever before. The backcourt depth has been huge.
“We’ve had some kids really take hold of their opportunity,” says Dillard on the players who have stepped in when needed. “Hopefully as we get some of our players back close to playoff time, that depth will only benefit us. We have a lot of confidence in our young kids.”
The girls are in the midst of a nine-game winning streak, and currently have the top offense in the region at 69 points per game on average, nearly five points better than the next-best offense in 8-AA. The focus squarely remains on the heart of the schedule coming up for the Lady Cats, however.
“We want to get that region title back,” adds Dillard. “We’re mad at ourselves for not doing a better job last year in protecting it. We feel like this is where it belongs.”
Rabun has won 280 games in Dillard’s tenure, and have seven regular season or tournament region titles, six Elite 8 runs, another pair of Sweet 16’s, and currently 10 straight playoff seasons. Since 2006-07, Rabun has also collected seven 20-win seasons. This season could be one of the best.
“I am so confident in this team,” states Stockton. “We had a team meeting one day, and said, ‘What kind of team do we want to be? We want to be more than a basketball team…make an impact and let Jesus’ light shine through us…and who we want to be is a State Champ!”