JOHNS CREEK, Ga.— Entering this season, Northview girls basketball head coach Chris Yarbrough knew his team has an abundance of talent, but he said he couldn’t have dreamed just how good this year’s Lady Titans turned out to be.
“It was really amazing to see what this group accomplished,” Yarbrough said. “Each one of our players took to heart what we were trying to do, and that enabled us to reach so many great accomplishments this year.”
Those accomplishments include the school’s first-ever region championship in basketball, a program record for wins in a season (28) and its first trip to the Final Four.
Yarbrough said the goal at the outset was to capture the region title after finishing runner-up to West Forsyth in the 2015-16 season. With the Forsyth County teams out of Northview’s region this season, Northview suddenly found itself the favorites after having spent so many seasons as the underdog.
The Lady Titans certainly showed their hunger for that first region crown in the Region 7-AAAAAA this season, compiling a 16-0 regular season region record and outscoring opponents by an average of 25 points per game during the region tournament, including a 58-38 win over Alpharetta in the region title game Feb. 11.
“The fact that we had never won a region championship made that day so monumental for us. The girls were so happy after that game and I really think it was a springboard into the state tournament,” Yarbrough said.
In the state tournament, Northview cruised to the Final Four with lopsided wins over South Paulding, Valdosta and Stephenson.
That’s where the historic season came to an end, as Harrison used stingy defense to down the Lady Titans 57-39 on March 4. Northview’s 39 points was its second lowest scoring game of the season.
After the loss to Harrison, Yarbrough said he talked at length about his two seniors, Shannon Titus and Erika Hama, whose playing time at Northview had just ended.
“I said to our players, if you can model their behavior and their actions, you will go a long way in life. Erika and Shannon were two of the best players I have ever coached regardless of skill or talent.”
Shannon Titus left an undeniable legacy of doing just about everything for the Lady Titans. Titus was a stalwart on defense, leading the team in steals, blocks and assists and finishing second in scoring for Northview’s offense.
“Shannon was so amazing for us. She would do anything I asked of her unselfishly,” Yarbrough said.
Hama saw limited playing time this year, but always seemed to make an impact in her limited amount of minutes.
“Erika doesn’t get as much credit as she deserves. She is 100 percent all the time and she leads by example, was always doing the dirty work and I can’t say enough about how hard she would play,” Yarbrough said.
Much of Northview’s playing time resided with its younger players, including juniors Megan Cistulli and Makayla Davis, sophomores Ashlee Austin and Maya Richards as well as freshman point guard Asjah Innis.
Yarbrough said his younger players all improved from last season.
“Maya [Richards] rebounded and scored a lot better for us this year. Her presence in the middle was a huge part of us really starting to roll in mid-January. Before that, we were averaging about 50 points a game, and then Maya stepped us for us and we were scoring in the 60s and 70s,” he said.
“[Austin] definitely improved this year and added her three point shot which will be big for us going forward. Cistulli and Davis both came up in some big games to hit some threes for us that if they don’t hit, we probably don’t win.”
With much of its talent returning next year, Yarbrough said Northview will increase its strength of schedule to try and improve further.
“The best way for us to get to that goal is to continue to play really tough teams. We may not win 28 games next year but losing is okay if you learn from it. The key is to not be losing at the end of the season,” he said.
“They have tasted success and now they want to work harder because they want to get to that mountaintop and win the state championship.”