Dateline – Sandy Springs, Ga.: The 2019 All Star festivities began with the annual three point competition. In this year’s edition of the contest, Atlanta Area School’s Lexi Strothers-Egelston drew Howard School’s Kate Guensler, while Natalie Yager faced Howard’s number one bombardier Lindey Bomar. Due to Strothers-Egelston’s late arrival, Guensler advanced by forfeit. Yager and Bomar faced off like experienced duelists, with both draining the same number of threes as time expired. In the tie breaking round, Bomar rattled home one more shot than Yager to punch her ticket to the final. In the final. Guensler would outgun her teammate to take home the distance shooting crown.
With the preliminary event out of the way, the Ladies game took center stage. Atlanta Area Coach Sara Sims joined forces with MSA’s Phil Hanson to guide the “White” team, which also featured TCS guards Natalie Yager and Maria Knezek. Keith Spillett of Howard, and Coach Cutchin joined forces for the third time in All Star history to captain the “Dark” team, which also included Lady Cougar standouts Brandy Michelle Finnell, Julia Baumohl, and Emily Daugherty. In the opening moments of the game, the Lady Cougars imposed their will on the contest. Operating without tournament MVP Tatiana Malone (who managed to arrive in time for the end of the first frame), Natalie Yager decided to take up the scoring slack for her White squad, by banking home her first two mid-range jump shots. Finnell responded to the challenge by knocking down two shots of her own. At the end of the first quarter, two three point harpoons hurled up by the three point champ, and a Tatiana Malone free throw gave the Dark team an 11 – 7 advantage.
By the start of the second quarter the full Atanta Area School contingent arrived, allowing both squads to operate at full strength. This quarter saw the AAS lead guards put on a scoring clinic against one another. Malone pumped in 4 points for the Dark team, while her underclassmen counterpart, Strothers-Egelston attacked the basket for 9 points, giving her Dark teamates a narrow one point edge going into the half. All three “Dark” Lady Cougars held floor time for stretches during the second quarter, while Yager and Maria Knezek shared backcourt duties with Malone.
In the third quarter, the Dark team took decisive steps toward controlling the game. First, Finnell and Baumohl locked down the rebounds, limiting their foes to one shot, while also plucking away some offensive caroms allowing their teammates additional shots on goal. Although the White chalked up 12 third quarter points (2 by Yager, 8 by Malone, and 2 by Howard’s Geunsler), the Dark team piled on 17. While Strothers-Egelston continued her torrid shooting pace with 10 third period points, TCS reserve Emily Daugherty provided momentum inducing play. In a 150 second stretch, the junior sixth man sensation gathered a steal for a breakaway (and canned one of the resulting free throws), recovered a loose ball, grabbed a rebound, and powered home 2 more baskets to jump start the Dark squad.
In the final stanza, the two Atlanta Area big guns began to cool down, as Malone hit for 6, while Strothers-Egelston tossed in 3. The Dark team reached deeply into their bag of tricks to fill the scoring void though, outpacing their opponents by six points over the final eight minutes. Finnell put away a shot from just inside the foul line, Howard freshman sensation Olivia DeHaan got on track with her first two buckets of the afternoon, while Howard’s Lindsey Bomar nailed a three pointer and a conventional jump shot.
When the dust settled, the White team prevailed on the strength of a 49 – 37 final score.
Although she did not score in the All Star Game, second time All Star Maria Knezek played her customary defense, gathering her quota a steals. In the skills competition that followed the match, Knezek teamed with Rusia Saidi of Atlanta Area School to win the skills competition. Knezek iced the victory when she drove past her defender to bank home a difficult lay-up.
Natalie Yager completed her third, and final, All Star appearance in a most unexpected fashion. Most known to AAC coaches for her defense, ball handling, and timely rebounding, Yager found her Dark Team without their premier scorer for most of the first quarter. Yager stepped up to fill the offensive void by actively seeking her shots, nailing two baskets in the early going. She added one more in the third to account for her 6 points for the afternoon. Yager also patrolled the passing lanes, and grabbed a few rebounds of her own.
Julia Baumohl graced the All Star stage for the second time in her TCS career. Last year, she began the game with a three pointer with her first touch. While the basketball guards conspired against her on the scoring front for this contest, Baumohl split inbounding duties, boxed out the White jerseys to claim more than her share of rebounds, ran transition defense effectively, and also blocked a shot to cap off her high school basketball resume. For the skills competition, Baumohl and her friend Avery Lawrence of Howard conspired together. Although they did not make it to the final tier, they fought gamely, and Baumohl used a mix of high arching jumpers and power moves as she tried to impose her will on the contest.
Brandy Michell Finnell shared starting frontcourt duties with her teammate as she had all season long, in this, her second All Star game appearance. Finnell claimed 6 points for the game, earned a trip to the foul line, bossed her way around the boards, and provided sound low post defense. Just for the fun of it, Finnell also served as the primary in-bounder as well. In the skills competition, Finnell paired up with Amirika Pace of AAS, and ended up as 1 of 3 Lady Cougars who survived into the final round.
Emily Daugherty turned in a first All-Star performance that took most observers by surprise. Daugherty secured her All Star birth after one of Howard players proved unable to attend the affair. Taking full advantage of her “alternate” opportunity, Daugherty played one of the most impactful quick stretches of AAC All Star basketball that this coach ever observed. Described in the game account above, in about two and one half minutes Daugherty scored 5, gathered a steal, and a rebound. True to her super-sub persona Daugherty’s insistence and tenacity impacted the game. Daugherty found herself aligned with tournament MVP Tatiana Malone for the skills competition. Although they well short, Daugherty did end up as one of the three Lady Cougars who made it to the final round.
The Lady Cougars extend their thanks to the many fans, students and parents, who took the trip down Georgia 400 to take part in this most fulfilling celebration of AAC basketball.