Lady Mustangs claim Mary Garber title

Lady Mustangs claim Mary Garber title
December 02
10:21 2022

For the second time in three years, the Lady Mustangs captured a Mary Garber Championship. Parkland defeated Mt. Tabor 50 to 39 in the Atrium Health Wake Forest bracket of the 33rd annual Tip-off Classic.

The Lady Mustangs first defeated Winston-Salem Prep and Glenn before defeating the Spartans in the finals. This win was sort of a redemption for Parkland as they lost in the championship game last season.

“It was special. The first time I got it two years ago it was big because Parkland girls had never won the Mary Garber. To get back to the championship game last year and lose it and then get there again and pull it off against one of your rivals, makes it even more special,” said Parkland head coach Ken Leak.

“The girls started last week saying they wanted to win it for the school. It wasn’t about our team, it wasn’t about me and the coaches, they wanted to win it for the school. They hear the things in the community about Parkland is not this and kids transfer away from us and the community thinks Parkland is full of a lot of little gang bangers and kids don’t prosper and do well. They said, ‘You know coach, people don’t know who we really are, and we have some good kids at the school.’

“They wanted to show that they’re good kids and they wanted to win this for all of the school, all of the students, the staff, and put their mark in the community for the school. I was happy that they took pride in that and they played like it.”

The Lady Mustangs easily dispatched the Prep in their opening game. Heading into their semifinal game against the Bobcats, Coach Leak could sense that his team was not as focused as they should have been.

“Against Glenn, they were very overconfident,” he said. “On the bus ride and pregame meal, they were too loose. I mentioned to my assistant coaches that we were going to have to find a way to bring them down or Glenn is going to upset us.

“Even my pregame talk, I kept referring back to ‘you got to respect who we are about to play now, you can’t look forward.’ They didn’t get it until about the fourth quarter. Glenn punched us in the mouth the entire game. We went on a 9-0 run in the beginning, but Glenn came right back and punched us in the mouth, and they took the lead.  

“The girls were still a little shell shocked after halftime. I just kept saying that they have to respect who they are playing. Once it kind of settled down and we made our run and took the lead, I think I called a timeout. We had got up by six with about a minute left and I still was trying to get the message across that Glenn wasn’t going anywhere. I said there is a lot of time left on the clock, they are still fighting, so you are going to have to fight to the very end and they did. I think that game, we grew up because they didn’t looked past Mt. Tabor.”

Leak says his girls learned their lesson by underestimating their opponent and made sure they focused in when it came time to play Mt. Tabor in the championship game.

“We got down early against Mt. Tabor because of the nerves of it being a championship game,” said Leak. “They were focused going into that game. The pregame meal was quiet, when we got back in the locker room, they were just focused on what we needed to do and no joking around. They didn’t even play music when they were getting dressed. They were highly focused on Mt. Tabor and it showed once we settled down defensively.”

There was a subtle confidence Leak had going into the tournament. He felt if his team “caught fire” they would be hard to defeat. He thought it was just a matter of them gaining confidence in the things he was drilling them on in practice.  

“Once they saw it work against other teams, I felt like they would have that little swag,” Leak said about his team’s confidence. “We played six preseason scrimmages and I started seeing it then.  

“Defensively, we could be very tough. We are quick up front with our guards and I have physical bigs that are also quick and that is something I have never had at Parkland. But now I can go about eight or nine deep with solid defensive effort and that is the makings of a very scary team. I know over a three-game tournament, if you can catch teams defensively, you can probably be successful.”

The Lady Mustangs had several players who played extremely well that helped propel them to the championship. Amera Alexander and Taleeya Reed were named to the All-Tournament team and Justace Williams was named tournament MVP.

“Taleeya has been solid for me since her freshman year,” Lead said. “She was on the team that won my first championship and she was raw as an onion then. She has grown into a phenomenal player. She can now knock down the three, where over the last couple of years, she was basically in the post for me.

“She has put in the work now where she can step outside the three and knock it down, she can drive and get into the lane. She has become an all-around good player within four years.”

“Amera, last year was my point guard and this year I said if I take her off the ball I think she can be more effective,” Leak continued.  “She has shown that. She has worked on her midrange game and that is what led us this entire tournament, her getting into the paint and knocking down that midrange shot. 

“She has also become a better defensive player. For her to step up the way she did was probably the biggest surprise for other teams, because she wasn’t the one I’m sure they were scouting. We are becoming stronger and those three definitely carried us throughout this run.”

Leak feels this championship run can either make their team better or it could set them up for failure. He says if his team is satisfied with the Mary Garber championship, then they could become complacent. On the other hand, he says if his team uses the championship run as fuel for the rest of the season, then success could follow.

 With three championship appearances in a row, Leak continues to prove that he is one of the best coaches in the county. He does not coach for the accolades, but instead prefers to see the progression and development of his players. He also credits his coaching staff for their dedication to the team as well.

“I hope when it’s all said and done, somebody can just go back and say he cared for the girls,” Leak said about his legacy. “It means more to me to see these girls develop over the years, not just on the court but off the court and in the classroom. I spend a lot of time talking to them about other stuff other than basketball.

“If anything, what I want them to remember is that I care for them and want to see them succeed, but I also want to see them grow when they think they could not succeed. If I’ve had anything to do with them becoming just great adults, I am satisfied and well. 

I wanted to grow this program and I think I succeeded at that.

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Timothy Ramsey

Timothy Ramsey

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