(pictured above: Co-captains Kyala Searcy and Celia Tibbs.)
It may take a few more days – perhaps even a few more weeks – for Winston-Salem Prep’s girls’ basketball team to find its groove.
The Phoenix gave eight-time state champ Bishop McGuinness all it could handle in the semifinals of the NCHSAA 1-A Western Regional last Saturday. In the end, however, Prep lost 49-46 in a game that wasn’t decided until the final seconds.
For the Phoenix, who finished the season at 22-7, the trip from Greensboro back to the school probably seemed to take a lot longer than the usual 30-minute bus ride. Coach Eugene Love’s crew had a lot to ponder. They more than held their ground against the Villains in every facet of the game except one – free-throw shooting. Prep, which shot close to 70 percent from the foul line during the season, had a cold streak at the wrong time, converting on just 5-of-13 freebies in the second half. With two wins in the regional, Prep would’ve advanced to the Class 1-A state championship game set for March 15.
Dominique Claytor provided a good portion of the offense with 17 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists. Kyala Searcy came off the bench to contribute 10 points and four boards, while Celia Tibbs pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds.
In spite of the disappointment in the aftermath of defeat, Love, in his first year at WSP, recognizes that the future is very promising. This year’s team was the best by far since Prep first fielded a girls’ team for the 2006-07 season. It was the season of superlatives – the first time that Prep’s girls ever won 20 or more games; the first time to advance to the Mary Garber Tournament finals; first time to play a conference tournament title game; and its first trip to the regional championships.
“The season was a success,” said Love. “When I came here, I saw the potential in them. It was all a matter of getting them to see it. We were able to put in a system that fit the talent of the people we have and the kids bought into it totally. They listened, they learned and things came to fruition.”
Winston-Salem Prep loses four seniors, but is well-equipped to build on this season’s success. The remainder of the roster is comprised of freshmen and sophomores. Claytor will get plenty of support from Kayla Robinson, Mychala Wolfe, Christina Caesar and Chrisalyn Boston.
“The biggest challenge we faced all year was coming to realize how good we could be if we played together,” said Searcy, a senior forward. “At the start of the season, I don’t think there was much respect for us because of our past record.”
Looking back on the season, Tibbs, a senior post player, believes that Prep got everybody’s attention by reaching the championship game of the Garber Classic.
“It took us four years for this team to get to where it is right now,” said Tibbs, who has signed with Gardner-Webb. “That’s when we earned respect. People started hearing about us, and they started to come out and watch the games to see for themselves.”