Following back-to-back elite eight runs, the Carrollton High School girls' basketball team is ready to return to the state's grandest stage.

And for a senior class loaded with talent, it would mark a prep career that's come full circle after it reached the state finals in Macon as freshmen.

Fast-forward to present time and the state crown is still looming for this group, which is something that may not be talked about every day under the direction of head coach Shon Thomaston, but it is certainly understood.

"They've been around long enough that they know exactly what the deal is," Thomaston said. "They also know what kind of opportunity they have and what type of team they have. They're not going to get this opportunity too many times, so we've got to take advantage of it."

The Lady Trojans (2-1) opened the season ranked No. 3 in Class AAAAA, right behind defending state champion Buford and No. 2 Flowery Branch, which knocked Carrollton out of the state playoffs last year in the quarterfinals.

The two teams just happened to meet at the beginning of the 2017-18 campaign, and the Lady Trojans fell short in that meeting, as well.

But since that time, Carrollton has been dominant in wins over state powers Columbia and St. Pius X leading up to tonight's Region 7-AAAAA opener against Woodland, Cartersville.

The Lady Trojans are one of two ranked teams in the league, as local rival Villa Rica is No. 8 under first-year head coach Tammy Norred.

Thomaston expects the region, from top to bottom, to be much tougher this year.

"Everybody is going to be gunning for us. Some of the region teams have improved and gotten better. We've got to make sure we stay on point and get better by the day," Thomaston said. "We can't take nobody for granted."

Carrollton features a senior class that includes star power in the form of Taylor Brown, Ansley Barge, Erial Daniel, Elexus Bell and Adasha Hendrix, who are looking to make one final title run together.

Thomaston is also leaning on some younger players to emerge this winter, and most notably the arrival of freshman phenom De'Mauri Flournoy, a point guard that is as skilled as they come for her age.

"I tell you what, De'Mauri Flournoy, she is special. If she can stay out of foul trouble and stay on the floor, there's no telling what kind of numbers she can put up," Thomaston said. "But she's so unselfish that she doesn't care about her numbers. Anytime she gets an open look at the basket, I think it's going in."

But the tale of this season will boil down to how far the senior class can take it. And if that's the case, Thomaston likes his chances.

"They've taken ownership of everything we do — with practices and just taking care of each other off the floor. We don't have one kid that's just a leader. They all take an equal part of the leadership aspect," Thomaston said. "I've had teams like that before. We weren't like this last year, but now they've got to understand that we've got to be together."

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