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Lady Pack falls at Campbell, finishes with a 23-6 record

Feb. 25—MOULTRIE — The Colquitt County girls 2023-2024 basketball season came to end on Saturday with a 65-49 second-round playoff defeat at Campbell High.

But Lady Packers coach Rondesha Williams told her vertically challenged team, which finished 23-6, that they had plenty to be proud of for "standing their ground."

As has been the case for most of her 17 seasons as the Lady Packers head coach, Williams was forced to figure out ways to succeed against opponents that often sent pure post-size front court players out to intimidate her decidedly shorter players.

That her team was able to win 23 games — just one off the school record — was a testament to its moxie.

The Lady Packers were down just four at the half on Saturday in Smyrna and by eight heading into the fourth quarter.

Then Campbell asserted its height advantage and outscored the Colquitt girls 20-12 in the final eight minutes.

Junior Amira Walters-Smith, playing the final game of her first season as a Lady Packer, put up 20 points in the effort to hold off the Region 2 champion Lady Spartans.

Amareyia Knighton added 13.

D'Zeriyah Polite had six; Jamya Moore, five; Caylnn Singletary and Nyleigha Knighton added two each; and Ameris Johnson sank a free throw.

But it was not enough to hold off Campbell, which will advance to an Elite Eight meeting with Region 5 champion Cherokee this week in Canton.

Region 1 champion Lowndes remains alive in the postseson, advancing to the quarterfinals with a 57-56 win over Carrollton.

The Vikettes will be home for a third-straight state tournament game this week when they take on Milton.

The Colquitt girls entered this season without four-year starting shooting guard Carliss Johnson, who graduated last year as the fourth-leading scorer in program history.

But her spot as the Lady Packers primary scorer was seamlessly filled by Walters-Smith, who returned to Colquitt County after having been gone for three seasons and was promptly named the Region 1-7A Offensive Player of the Year.

After playing in the Colquitt program as a seventh-grader, she first went to Westwood, then played the last two seasons at Mitchell County High.

She averaged 17.0 points this season.

And she was familiar with the current Lady Packers, having played with several of them on an AAU team.

"She fit right in," Williams said. "She knew the kids."

Walters-Smith teamed with Amareyia Knighton to give Colquitt a pair of potent scoring options and the Lady Packers jumped out to a 7-0 start this season.

Then they ran into a formidable Veterans High team in the Lee County Girl Power Classic.

Williams considered her team a considerable underdog to the Lady Warhawks, who have gone on to post a 23-6 record and have reached the Class 6A Elite Eight.

The Lady Packers battled back from a 13-point deficit before ultimately falling 55-50 to a decidedly taller opponent.

That's when Williams began to believe her team could make a playoff run.

"The Veterans game was the turning point," she said.

But it wasn't smooth sailing the rest of the way.

The Lady Packers dropped back-to-back region games to Lowndes, 74-49, and Camden County, 61-40, in mid-January and then fell to the Lady Wildcats again in overtime for a third region loss.

Colquitt did beat Lowndes by 10 later in the regular season and avenged its two losses to Camden with a win in the region tournament.

The Lady Packers lost by four to Lowndes in the region championship game, but their runner-up finish in the region earned them a home state playoff game.

Colquitt took advantage of the opportunity to play on the William Bryant Court one more time by rallying in the fourth quarter to knock off visiting Archer.

The Lady Packers got stellar work from their seniors this season, including Jamya Moore who used her free 85-minute class period each day to work on her game.

"That second block in the gym every day really paid off for her," Williams said.

Senior Ameris Johnson was the ultimate role player for the Lady Packers, scrapping under the boards to grab timely rebounds and getting the ball quickly out to the guards.

Williams called Johnson her "general" on the floor.

"She has such a high basketball IQ," she said.

Polite was an outstanding defensive force for the Lady Packers in her senior season and will get a chance to continue to play at the next level."

"She was such a game-changer for us, especially late in the season," Williams said.

A new weight-training regimen introduced by Colquitt County strength and conditioning director Stan Luttrell paid dividends for the Lady Packers this season.

"He even started us lifting on game days," Williams said. "That really helped the girls get ready."

And, as usual, Williams credited assistant coach Stephanie Cody, who has been by her side on the bench and in practice sessions for 14 years.

"I'm out front on game nights," Williams said. "But she is also there grinding it out with the kids all the time."

The 2023-2024 season was personally gratifying as well for Williams, who, in her 17th season, earned her 300th victory as the Colquitt County girls coach when the Lady Packers downed Brooks County in the regular-season finale.

After being named the Region 1-7A Coach of the Year, she is already thinking about next season when she will have Walters-Smith and Amareyia Knighton returning, Singletary ready to taking on an expanded role and current freshman Nicardia Robinson expected to step into a starting position.

"I'm excited, ready for the next chapter," she said. "We'll be ready."