There were a lot of “had nots” the Central girls basketball team was looking to overcome during the 2016-17 season.
Central had not won much through the years. Central had not won a state tournament game. And Central had not won a region championship.
But thanks to a resolute head coach and a collection of players who bought into her system, several of those “had nots” became “just dids” this past winter.
Under Sheila Toombs’ leadership, Central put together a 21-win season less than a decade after the Chargers were regularly winning just two or three games a year. They also won their first state tournament games in program history, beating Liberty County 55-41 and Hart County 59-46 before taking eventual GHSA Class 3A champion Beach to overtime before falling 46-45.
The biggest celebration, however, was reserved for the night of Feb. 10, when the Chargers’ Jada Clowers calmly hit a putback just before the buzzer to lift the team to the Region 4-3A title, 47-46 over a Peach County team the Chargers had lost to twice during the regular season.
Simply put, region championship night was the night Toombs’ program arrived.
“This year felt awesome,” said Toombs, The Telegraph’s All-Middle Georgia Girls Basketball Coach of the Year. “The girls stepped up and bought in what we have been teaching the past couple of years. Seeing the success gained this year was great.”
Central’s success came about by way of an inside-out combination that found its stride during the season.
Jada Clowers grew into one of the area’s top post players, becoming one of four players in Middle Georgia to average a double-double with 14 points and 10.4 rebounds while also averaging 6.3 steals.
“Jada got some confidence mid-year blocking shots and playing good defense,” Toombs said. “She didn’t understand at first how much of an intimidating force she was, but she really deterred players from going in the middle.”
JeNya Wilder helped Clowers in the high post, averaging 13 points and 8.2 rebounds. And guard Tyleia Williams helped spark things from outside with a 15-point average.
The bonus for Toombs and Central? Clowers, Wilder and Williams all have one more season of eligibility remaining.
“JeNya was a force underneath, as well, especially in the 10-15-foot area rebounding,” Toombs said. “(Williams), her mid-range jumper was awesome. She’s getting more confidence at playing the point. She’s really a two-guard, but she did well at the point and being a leader.”
Central will have a guard spot open, with 5-foot spark plug Zaire Hutchings, a strong defensive presence between the jump circles, graduating. But guard Zaren Harris will be returning for her senior season, giving the Chargers plenty of experience this fall.
“We’re going to just keep building, hone skills and work on ballhandling,” Toombs said. “We’re going to work on some basics and continue to work to get better.”