Phoenix girls capture state title again!

Phoenix girls capture state title again!
March 17
00:00 2016
Winston-Salem Prep celebrates after the girls’ team wins its second straight Class 1-A state basketball championship.



After the first 12 minutes of play, it was no longer a mystery as to whether Winston-Salem Prep’s girls would win back-to-back state championships. The only question was what the final margin of victory would be.

It was a vintage performance for the Phoenix, whose smothering defense paved the way for a 66-34 blow-out victory over Plymouth in the Class 1-A final at Carmichael Arena on the campus of UNC in Chapel Hill last Saturday. In the process, Prep’s pressure led to 20 steals and 37 forced turnovers.

“Defensively, it was the best effort we’ve had all year,” said point guard Jada Craig of Prep. “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy to repeat (as state champs), so that was all the motivation we needed to keep playing hard.” The victory served as a fitting conclusion to a two-year championship run for seven seniors. The Phoenix (28-3) rolled through this year’s state playoffs and won six games by an average margin of 27 points.

“These ladies have set a legacy for Winston-Salem Prep basket-ball,” said coach Eugene Love of Prep. “Hopefully, we can continue to build on it. But I don’t know if we can ever repeat it. I’m excited and happy for them and we’ll enjoy this for right now. Within the next week or so, we’ll enjoy this for right now. Within the next week or so, we’ll start looking towards next season.”

Although Prep’s calling is defense, this game quickly turned into a rout because of its offensive balance as seven players scored eight or more points.

Game day just happened to be Mychala Wolfe’s birthday and she celebrated by leading her team in scoring with 13 points, which included three 3-pointers. Kayla Robinson contributed 10 points and 5 rebounds and Craig, the championship game MVP who has signed with East Tennessee State, finished with 10 points and 5 assists.

It didn’t take long for Prep to seize control of the game. Plymouth packed the paint with its 2-3 zone defense in an effort to nullify post players Chrisalyn Boston and Kristian Saunders. The Phoenix countered with reliable outside shooting. Wolfe and Robinson converted a couple of 3-pointers apiece to help their team build a 21-10 lead by the end of the first quarter.

“I saw that they were playing zone and that they were rotating slow,” said Wolfe, who shot 50 percent from 3-point distance (3-of-6). “So when my team-mates skipped me the ball, I was open and I took the shots.”

Plymouth, in the meantime, struggled to navigate through the pressure, especially after Prep switched from playing man to a 1-3-1 three-quarter court zone trap. The defense was so effective that the Vikings shot just 23.1 percent from the field in the first half. The second quarter, in which they scored only three points, was very problematic.

It’s not that Plymouth (29-2) didn’t know what was coming. It was more a matter of not being able to make the right adjustments. “We’ve played other teams that press like they do,” said Lamont Gilliam of Plymouth. “But they were really good. They had people in the right spots and they forced us to the side-lines.” The top performer for the Vikings was 6-4 center Brittany Franklin who had 14 points, 13 rebounds, five steals and two blocked shots. Daneya Rouson chipped in with 12 points and three assists.

The most disruptive factor for Prep’s defense was Dominique Claytor, a 5-9 swing player who recently returned to the lineup after being sidelined by a knee injury. Claytor, who has signed with East Carolina, played at the start of the season in the Mary Garber Classic, but spent most of the season in rehab and didn’t rejoin the team until early February. In her absence, the Phoenix continued to roll.

“It’s a testament of how well the other seven ladies played without her,” said Love. “We were a very good team without Dominique. But we became much better when she came back. Having her on the floor is good for our transition game. When she rebounds we can automatically push (the pace). At the other end, we put her at the top of our 1-3-1 (defense). With her length and athleticism, it gives people a lot of problems.” In the title game, Claytor came off the bench to provide an added spark. By game’s end, she had eight points, five assists and seven steals.

Considering that Prep goes only eight-deep on its roster, it’s somewhat surprising that this team was able to play at such a high-energy level for the length of a long season. The up-tempo, relentless style is a Phoenix trademark.

“That’s just what we do,” Love explained. “That’s how our practices are geared. Everything we do is pretty much going to be full-court and it’s going to be fast. That’s the expectation and the kids learn to play that way. With our rotations, we got it down to where we know who needs to sub and when and where. That’s the style that we’re accustomed to playing.”

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