Saturday, March 11, 2017

CHAMPIONS AT LAST: L.C Bird 65, Bethel 52

The business is finally complete. Now the fun can begin.

The L.C. Bird Skyhawks, who have taken a serious approach to every game this season, hardly wanting to touch the 5A South Region Championship trophy when they again won it two Saturdays ago, were more than happy to accept the 5A State Championship hardware when the Skyhawks defeated Bethel for the third time this season, 65-52, to finally reach the mountaintop.

In this, his sixth season at the helm in Chester, head coach Troy Manns celebrated his team's accomplishment with a very calm demeanor, accepting the trophy, holding it up for reporters to take pictures, then walking over to hand it to the young men who earned it.

Mario Haskett, who will play his next competitive game at Harvard, finished his Skyhawk career in epic fashion, scoring 20 ponts to L.C. Bird, who finishes the season with a record of 27-1. Jaylen Dillard and Pinky Wiley each scored 13 points, Dillard registering 11 of his in the second half as the Skyhawks held Bethel at bay after building their lead in the first half with a 34-23 advantage at intermission.

When asked about the traits they've learned as Skyhawks, each answered with a key part of this championship run.

"Leadership. There were great leaders here before us," Haskett noted. "There are good leaders and bad leaders, Coach tells us that all the time. You have to decide which one you want to do."

"Playing hard," noted senior Cam Henry, who added ten points, eight rebounds and three assists. "You can't take any game different."

L.C. Bird learned a lot from their loss to Potomac a year ago at this same point, and used it throughout the season, especially Saturday, never panicking, especially early in the second half when Bethel turned up the defensive pressure, the Skyhawks' rhythm offensively briefly disappeared, and it seemed there might be a chip in the armor.

But playing quality teams like Bethel, like Varina, like VISAA State Champion Trinity Episcopal and John Marshall, the last two on the road in front of huge Saturday night crowds, that is what galvanized this group, preparing them for making the final push. In the fourth quarter, Bethel never seriously threatened as the Skyhawks answered every Bruin basket with one of their own, and hit free throws down the stretch to seal the victory.

This team had a target on its back since the first day of practice. With Wiley, Haskett, Tyrek Williams and Jyles Webster back, and Jaylen Dillard joining the team, L.C. Bird topped the RVA Sports Network Top 10 Preseason Poll way back at Thanksgiving Weekend. They never lost that ranking.

"We try to tell them that every game is important because it's the next game, no game is bigger than any other game," Manns explained, discussing the coaching staff's approach to a rugged regular season schedule that included playing, and defeating, Bethel by ten points at the Hampton Coliseum on December 30th. "The advantage we had was from being here last year. We learned from that experience."

The Skyhawks were outrebounded 35-28, but forced fifteen Bethel turnovers, as the Skyhawks assist to turnover ratio finished at 12-8, getting the distribution they expect from the Conference 12 and 5A South Region Player of The Year in Wiley.

Dillard, Haskett, Wiley, Henry, Webster and Angelo Jackson now depart the program, ready for graduation and the next phase of their lives. They will be forever remembered by Manns, who wasn't necessarily welcomed to Chester when he took over for the 2011-12 season with a team returning that had just lost the old Group AAA title game against I.C. Norcom.

"Once I had a group of athletes who bought in, good things happen, so it took me awhile to convince the athletes to buy what I was selling," Manns said. "Once I had a group who bought in, this is exactly what I had envisioned."

When a team believes in each other, enjoys being around each other both on and off the court, and doesn't care who gets the big stat line, victories, and championships will come.

Both have arrived at L.C. Bird High School.





Friday, March 10, 2017

THREE-PEAT: Monacan 60, King's Fork 59

It was a feeling completely unknown to most Monacan Girls Basketball fans as they sat squeamishly in their seats at the Siegel Center, or refreshed Twitter back in Chesterfield County, as the third quarter ended and the 29-0 Chiefs found themselves only scoring three points in eight minutes, as a four-point halftime lead became an eleven-point deficit.

"I was about to throw up", guard Jaiden Morris candidly admitted during the post-game press conference.

But Morris, and Alex Parson, each navigated through the final period with four fouls, never fouling out, and National High School Player of The Year Megan Walker left her final mark on both her high school career and Monacan High School, scoring 18 of her game-high 35 points in the fourth period, including the game-winning shot in the final seconds, surviving a desperate last second shot attempt from King's Fork to win their third consecutive Virginia High School League (VHSL) 4A State Championship 60-59 Friday night at the Siegel Center on the campus of VCU.

When asked if her career could have had a better ending, Walker answered in typical Walker fashion.

"You can always be better," Walker noted.

Even Megan fell cold in a third quarter that the Chiefs will likely want to forget, shooting just one for eleven from the field, and missing one of two free throw tries, as King's Fork guard Cydney Harris got hot, scoring nine of her team-high 28 points in the period to give King's Fork a 43-32 advantage.

Morris, saddled with foul trouble all night after picking up two early fouls in the game's first two minutes, scored the game's first two points five seconds in, then wouldn't tally for another 26 minutes before her three-pointer cut King's Fork's lead to six at 48-42 with 5:51 left. After multiple possessions failed in trying to make it a one-possession game, Walker found an offensive rebound, put the ball in and was fouled. Her And One made it 50-47 at 2:58 left.

King's Fork raced down court, scoring just nine seconds later. But the next 35 seconds belonged to Walker, willing her way inside for two baskets for a one-point deficit. Nichols converted two free throws, then Walker answered, was fouled, but missed the free throw. Enter Abby Oguich with a huge offensive rebound and pass to Walker who drew another foul at 2:00 left, and hit both free throws for a 55-54 lead. The comeback was complete, the game was far from over.

The lead would change hands four times in the final two minutes, as King's Fork retook the lead at 1:35 left, but Walker drew the fifth foul on Amesha Miller. The standout for King's Fork scored just six points but was a force inside defensively. Walker's two at the line made it 57-56, but Nichols answered as a runner in the lane got the kind roll, and the Chiefs found themselves, again, down by one with just 1:12 left.

Walker was fouled before Monacan could inbound the ball. She went 1-of-2 at the line for a 58-58 tie. King's Fork held the ball as the clock fell under a minute to play, then forced to call timeout when Norman, who drew a five-second violation earlier during the comeback, almost got another one before the King's Fork bench asked for time at :35.3 left.

Camary Harris was fouled just 1.4 seconds later, and made one of two at the line. It was 59-58 King's Fork, and Monacan's ball. The entire world knew who would get the basketball, and it had to feel like the weight of the world was on Megan Walker's shoulders as she received the ball at the free throw line, moved left, and beat two defenders to the basket at :15 left for the 60-59 lead.

With no timeouts left, King's Fork had to get the ball inbounds and down the court, and found Harris cutting down the right side. Norman got back on defense, forcing a layup try that was too strong. The horn sounded, Monacan began to celebrate, but the officials conferred and said there was 0.3 left when the ball fell out of bounds, last touched by the Chiefs.

King's Fork got the pass in, and their miracle shot went in, but the officials waved it off, saying it didn't come off the shooter's fingers in time.

"We got to celebrate a second time," Walker opined after the game.

Walker's 35 points places her in a tie for 27th place all-time in points scored in Virginia High School League history with 2,062 points. After a slow start at the free throw line, missing five of her first ten shots, she finished 15-for-24 at the stripe. She grabbed eleven rebounds for Monacan, who were outrebounded by King's Fork 43-36.

Head Coach Larry Starr credited the tournament experiences the Chiefs had in December, winning two games in a weekend classic in Maryland, then a Holiday Tournament in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, with helping them overcome the deficit in the final period and seize that third trophy.

"Those tournaments helped us, practice helps us," Starr said, asked about the difference between his lauded senior class today versus two years ago. "If we play this game a couple of years ago, I'm not sure we win it."

Abby Oguich, who has filled her role remarkably in the Monacan starting lineup, asked to rebound, block out, defend, and dive, did it all again, including the aforementioned offensive rebound of a Walker missed free throw, finishing with eight rebounds, two assists and a steal. She will be the only returning starter in 2017-18 as Walker, Morris, Norman and Alex Parson all head to play college basketball.

"It's been an honor playing with them. It's going to be hard next year, but we'll be back," Oguich said.

The ending was a heartbreaking moment for a King's Fork team that obviously learned a lot from their 74-65 loss at Monacan in the 4A East Region Championship just two weeks ago. With eight minutes left, their lead was eleven and the momentum was completely on their side.

But Megan Walker was on Monacan's side, and, in the final act of her four-star production at Monacan High School, Walker saved the best, and most heart-stopping, for last.

NOTES: Monacan finishes the 2016-17 season at 30-0, the first unbeaten Monacan Girls Basketball team in school history. Last year's championship team lost to Highland Springs in the Times-Dispatch Invitational Tournament final, and the 2014-15 team lost multiple times to rival Midlothian before defeating them in the state final 65-57. Monacan becomes the second Chesterfield team in as many years to win three straight state titles, joining the Cosby Titans, who won 6A State Championships in 2014, 2015 and 2016. The Chiefs, after shooting 9.1% in the third quarter, shot 55.6% in the fourth, making six of eight free throws.

Perhaps the biggest stat untold in the game is this: Monacan committed 16 turnovers in the first three quarters, only registering four assists. In the fourth quarter, their assist-to-turnover ratio was 5-0.


HONORS: 4A East All-Region Basketball

Congratulations to the following student-athletes on their selection to the 4A East All-Region Basketball Team:

GIRLS:

FIRST TEAM:

Megan Walker, Monacan
Amesha Miller, King's Fork
Alex Parson, Monacan
Junajah Somerville, Lake Taylor
Jaiden Morris, Monacan
Cydney Nichols, King's Fork
Tina Lindenfeld, Midlothian
Taya Robinson, Huguenot

SECOND TEAM:

Imani Broadnax, Lake Taylor
Jonae Cox, Wilson
Tyi Skinner, Louisa
Tiara Williams, Deep Creek
Rachel Lia, Lafayette
Haley Cunningham, Grafton
Nyla Young, King's Fork
Jasmine Norman, Monacan

HONORABLE MENTION:

Victoria Coleman, Great Bridge
Angel James, Denbigh
Corynthian Williams, Jamestown
Special Bridges, Heritage
Annalicia Goodman, Heritage
Anaya Simmons, Jamestown
Amunique Newell, Heritage
Emily McCombs, Eastern View
Halia Ellis, King George
Bianca Atkinson, Chancellor
Kelsey Jones, Courtland
Oma Aguolu, King George
Anna Agee, Louisa
Kiara McCullough, Courtland
Sarah Wright, Hanover
Jaylin Luster, Midlothian

4A EAST REGION PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Megan Walker, Monacan
4A EAST REGION COACH OF THE YEAR: Larry Starr, Monacan


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

HONORS: All-5A South Region Basketball Teams Announced

L.C. Bird's Pinky Wiley (pictured below) earns 5A South Region Boys Basketball Player of the Year honors to add to his Conference 12 Player of The Year accolades. We congratulate the student-athletes listed below for being named to the 2016-17 5A South Region Basketball teams:

GIRLS:

FIRST TEAM:

CeCe Crudup, Highland Springs
Xaria Wiggins, Princess Anne
Zhymani Smith, Menchville
Mallory Odell, Deep Run
Cam Gatling, Highland Springs
Jennifer Coleman, Highland Springs
Brina Bentley, L.C. Bird
Lovie Harden, J.R. Tucker

SECOND TEAM:

Taylor Stevens, Prince George
Jaden Watkins, L.C. Bird
Naya Pollard, Princess Anne
Brianna Jackson, Salem
Briana Payne, J.R. Tucker
Cayla Hannibal, Salem
Ellie Brown, Deep Run
Taylor Pawlowski, J.R. Tucker

5A SOUTH REGION PLAYER OF THE YEAR: CeCe Crudup, Highland Springs
5A SOUTH REGION COACH OF THE YEAR: Chevette Waller, L.C. Bird



*******
BOYS:

FIRST TEAM:

Johquin "Pinky" Wiley, L.C. Bird
Shawn Sanders, Green Run
Cam Bacote, Bethel
Rahki Person, Hermitage
Jalen Ray, Hampton
Mario Haskett, L.C. Bird
Cam Henry, L.C. Bird
Andre Watkins, Varina

SECOND TEAM:

Dillon Thomas, Mills Godwin
Kenneth Southerland, Varina
Dajour Dickens, Bethel
Marquis Godwin, Hampton
Timothy Fisher, Mills Godwin
Jeremiah Owusu, Bethel
Jonathan Norfleet, Salem
Terrance Whitfield, Matoaca

5A SOUTH REGION PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Johquin "Pinky" Wiley, L.C. Bird
5A SOUTH REGION COACH OF THE YEAR: Craig Brehon, Bethel