Prairie View (28-6) vs. Leake (38-0)
Leake's championship run has to end sometimes, doesn't it? Prairie View is next in line to take a shot at dethroning the seven-time defending MAIS Class 2A state champion Rebelettes today at 1 p.m. in the State Tournament semifinals at Canton Academy.
Bowling Green and Oak Hill play in the second semifinal today at 2 p.m.
It's no secret that Leake (38-0) and South State champion Bowling Green (35-1) are the consensus favorites to play for the state championship on Saturday at 2:15 p.m., with the Lady Spartans (28-7) and Oak Hill vying for third place and a berth in the Overall Tournament in the preceding game at 1 p.m.
Leake coach Doyle Wolverton isn't among the many who have already penciled his team into Saturday's finals. Judging by Wolverton's track record, his teams don't make a habit of underestimating opponents.
“I don't think it'll be an easy game for us,” Wolverton said. “Overlooking somebody will get you beat real quick. They have the big kid (Dani Anderson), who does a good job inside, and their two little guards (Kristen Oliphant and Erika Guerrero) handle the ball pretty good.”
Well aware that nobody other than Wolverton is giving his team much of a chance against Leake, Prairie View coach Ed Bain told the Lady Spartans one of his favorite coaching stories during Thursday's practice.
Shortly after Bain's 1979-80 Forest team won its Class B quarterfinal game, an area women's college coach inquired as to who the Lady Bulldogs would play next. Bain recalls the conversation with then-Northeast Louisiana University (now ULM) head coach Linda Harper clearly.
“When I told coach Harper we were playing Bell City, she said, 'Ya'll had a good season,'” Bain said.
Bell City was indeed a powerhouse, carrying a 40-1 record into the semifinals with its only loss to a Class 4A school (Louisiana's largest classification at the time).
Overhearing the conversation between Bain and Harper served as a source of motivation for the Forest team.
“They didn't like being told they couldn't beat Bell City,” Bain said. “You could tell by the looks on their faces.”
Holding Bell City to six points in the first half, Forest went on to pull off the stunning upset en route to capturing the state title.
Forty-two years later, Bain is trying to engineer another semifinal shocker.
“Leake's just so much better than everybody else,” Bain said. “They can pull their starters and there's not a whole lot of difference between their first team and second team. They dress out about 20 kids and every one of them get after you.”
In an era in which the so-called D-word (sports lingo for dynasty) is thrown around loosely, the Rebelettes are legitimate. Seven straight state titles and 11 consecutive North State championships qualifies as a dynasty in any era.
In 38 years at the Madden, Miss. school, Leake coach Doyle Wolverton's teams have won a staggering 1,243 games against just 179 losses. Earlier this season, Wolverton moved into second place on the all-time wins list for high school basketball coaches.
Leake is led by a trio of seniors — guard Hannah Peoples, point guard Anna Katherine Nowell and high post Hannah Moore.
In five years as a starter, Moore has helped the Rebelettes to a 196-10 record, four state titles and an Overall state championship.
In the final two games of the North State Tournament, Newell totaled 16 points, six rebounds, five assists and five steals in a 56-23 semifinal win over Indianola, followed by a 20-point, six-rebound, five-assists, five-steals effort in a 69-30 victory over Oak Hill in the finals.
Rounding out the starting five are junior guard Mary Grace Key, an All-State honoree last season, and eighth grader Anna Evans at the low post. Evans has started the past dozen games in place of Chloe Thaggard, who recently rejoined the team following a bout with mono.
Wolverton says his system is much the same as it was 38 years ago.
“We haven't changed much through the years,” Wolverton said. “We may change a little according to the personnel. If we have a big kid inside, we'll work the ball in to her or if we have small guards, we may rely a little more on our outside shooting and our press.”
Wolverton says the Rebelettes will start tonight's encounter in a full-court press, just as they have done in their past 38 games.
“This is not one of the bigger teams I've had,” Wolverton said. “We open every game in a press and try to create some turnovers. If we can't, we'll back up and match up with them.”
While Leake drew a bye into the semifinals, Prairie View came from behind to beat Simpson 40-36 in Tuesday's first round action.
Anderson spearheaded the Lady Spartans' rally with 19 points and 14 rebounds.
Anderson, a junior center, averages nearly a double double per game with 12 points and 9.6 rebounds.
Also starting for the Lady Spartans are Tori Simmons (9.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.7 steals), Oliphant (8.6 ppg., 4.6 assists), Guerrero (6.9 ppg) and Jay Hicks (6.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg).