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Chip Saye

Girls basketball player of the year: Kendrick’s Kahlia Lawrence

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Kahlia Lawrence, AJC

Kahlia Lawrence averaged a team-leading 26.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and six steals in guiding the Cherokees to an undefeated season. (Kent D. Johnson / AJC)

Kendrick girls coach Sterling Hicks had never seen Kahlia Lawrence play basketball before she set foot on the Columbus school’s campus at the start of her sophomore season. He was in for a pleasant surprise.

Now fans across the state are familiar with the sweet jump shot and smooth ball-handling of the 5-foot-9 guard, who has been selected as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s all-classification girls player of the year.

Lawrence averaged a team-leading 26.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and six steals in guiding the Cherokees to an undefeated season and their first state championship since 2008 and second overall. She set school records for points in a game (45), a season (759) and a career (2,086). And she helped the Cherokees snap Wesleyan’s streak of six consecutive state championships when they beat the Wolves 69-58 in the Class AA final at the Macon Coliseum on March 7.

“Work ethic,” Hicks said when asked what makes Lawrence so special. “She goes hard every day. If there are some flaws in her game, she’s not going to take it personally if you try to correct them. She stays in the gym. Any time we have workouts, she’s going to be there. She’s not going to come up with a reason to miss.”

Perhaps no point in the season better illustrated how valuable Lawrence was to her team than a seven-minute stretch of the championship game. She picked up her third foul with 2:51 to play in the second quarter and went to the bench with the Cherokees leading 26-21. With Lawrence out of the game, Wesleyan outscored Kendrick 11-3 in the remainder of the quarter to lead 32-29 at halftime. When she returned at the start of the third quarter, Lawrence scored 10 points in the first four minutes as the Cherokees regained control and pulled away from there. She finished the game with 25 points and seven rebounds, and her four steals contributed to Wesleyan’s 31 turnovers.

“[Coach Hicks] told me I had to do what I’m supposed to do, and that’s score points,” Lawrence said after the game. “I wasn’t exactly doing that in the first half. I came out in the second half more aggressive, trying to lead my team, and that’s what I did.”

Lawrence, who grew up in a military family and moved to the Columbus area after her father’s death in 2010, is currently in the process of choosing a college. Hicks said she is expected to make a decision by April 12. Among the schools she has visited or plans to visit are Furman, Coastal Carolina, Georgia State, Kennesaw State, Mercer, Alabama State and Savannah State.

“She’s a terrific player, a great competitor, and one of the toughest players we faced this year,” said Greater Atlanta Christian coach Cal Boyd, whose team lost to Kendrick 65-62 in overtime in the state quarterfinals. “She’ll definitely be playing at the next level. She had a good supporting cast around her, but she was by far the engine that ran that team.”

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