Westlake, recent winners of the Class 6A GHSA girls state basketball championship, vividly remembered December 7, 2019 when Virginia private school Paul VI handed the Lions their first loss in 34 games.
So when Westlake got a chance to avenge that loss in the championship game of the GEICO National Championship Tournament in Ft. Myers, Florida on April 3, they made the most of it.
Led by Raven Johnson, Ta’Niya Latson, and Brianna Turnage, the Lions routed Paul VI 70-50 to capture the title. Boys teams Milton (7A state champs) and Pace Academy (2A state champs) also were invited to play in the GEICO tournament, but both were beaten in their first game of the single-elimination tournament. Milton fell to Florida’s IMG Academy 73-68, while Pace was beaten 84-77 by Virginia’s Oak Hill Academy.
“It means a lot that we’re bringing this GEICO Championship back to Georgia,” Johnson said. “Representing Georgia on the national map means a lot.”
“I think it feels good being just able to add this title,” Turnage added. “Four Georgia state championships. Not a lot of teams get selected for something as big as this.”
In the game, Latson led all scorers with 31 points. Johnson, a South Carolina signee, totaled 17 points, seven rebounds, and eight assists. Turnage, who is headed to Virginia Tech, came close to a triple-double, with 11 points, 11 rebounds, and seven blocks. Turnage went 5-for-5 from the field.
Westlake coach Hilda Hankerson’s senior class went 112-4 with four state championships and now a GEICO National Championship in their final game.
“First of all, I just want to thank God for giving us the opportunity to do this,” Hankerson said. “This group right here is so special, even though Ta’Niya is a junior. They all played like they were the leaders of the team all year. It meant a lot to us. We lost to Paul VI a year ago. We had a little chip on our shoulder. We didn’t want them to go 2-0. We had to split it 1-1. I told them if we split it 1-1, we’d be the national champions. It’s a two-fold win, but we don’t ever like to have somebody beat us twice. In four years, nobody has done that. We take pride in that legacy that this group has left.”
The Fort Myers News-Press contributed to this article