There was no containing the emotion Sheila Toombs displayed in Central’s gym a week ago when the Chargers beat Peach County for the GHSA Region 4-3A girls championship.
A region championship had eluded the Central program for a long time. Central had never been in position to play for a region title, much less win one.
But when Jada Clowers picked up a rebound and popped it into the basket at the buzzer to lift the Chargers past Peach County, the weight of never having won a region title was lifted.
“Having (lost to Peach County) early in the season, we had fallen short both times,” junior guard Tyleia Williams said. “But we came back and won. When Jada Clowers put back that shot, it was amazing. It’s fun to be part of this team. There’s a lot of love, energy and excitement.”
Said Toombs, Central’s head coach, of the celebration, “It lasted until Monday. That party started, and we took on into Monday. Tuesday became a different day, and we had to get back to business.”
For the first time in program history, Central will host a GHSA girls tournament game when the Chargers (18-5) entertain Liberty County (8-14) at 6 p.m. on Friday.
The region title was something a decade in the making for Central.
When Toombs arrived at Central 10 years ago, the program was coming off a stretch in which it won just 16 games — an average of two per season — in an an eight-year stretch.
By 2009-10, Central improved to the point where it became a playoff team, going as the No. 4 seed. According to a 2010 Telegraph report, it was the first time the Central girls program had qualified for the GHSA Tournament.
It wasn’t until the 2013-14 season that Central made regular appearances in the GHSA Tournament. Each time, however, the Chargers made it as a No. 4 seed, facing long odds playing the likes of Laney or Beach in the first round, programs that have a history of going deep in the tournament.
“We’ve been to the playoffs, but we’ve never been in this position where we’ve been No. 1,” Toombs said. “The past couple of years we’ve been No. 4, and that means we’ve been one-and-done with that. This year, we’re looking for better things, to take it to another step.”
This season, however, has been different.
Development of guard play has been important, as has experience in the post. Central’s leadership is in its junior class, so there is room for even more growth for a team that is eighth in the Score Atlanta Class 3A rankings.
Central’s only losses in region play came to Peach County, losses avenged in the region championship game. The Chargers swept Kendrick and Rutland, teams that gave Central trouble in the past.
“It’s very nice to be able to be a boundary-breaking (team), setting new goals for our upcoming freshmen,” Williams said. “It’s exciting to be part of the first girls team to win region.”