February 24, 2010 8:33:00 AM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
Sports never follow a plan.
If they did, Chris Hamm''s speech Saturday following the title game of the Alabama Christian Education Athletic Association Division I State Tournament would have praised the players for their effort and convinced them that the 2010-11 season was theirs to win a championship.
Little did Hamm know he would have to alter his approach.
Despite a slow start Saturday, the Victory Christian Academy girls basketball team rallied to beat defending champion Eastwood 25-20 to win the ACEAA title at Shelton State Community College in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
"This was not the year we were necessarily expecting it, but you can''t expect it any year," said Hamm, whose team won its first title in four appearances in the championship game. "We have three seniors and a good class of juniors. I told them after the game I already had my speech ready and that I was going to thank the seniors, talk about how hard we were going to work, and that we were coming back and next year was going to be our year.
"They made their minds up that they had the opportunity to do it and they were going to do it."
The girls'' ability to live up a promise made to Victory Christian boys basketball coach David Johnson last year helped them force Hamm to change his speech.
A year ago, Johnson asked several members of the girls basketball team who were on hand to watch the boys team win the state tournament if they wanted to cut down a piece of the nets. The girls said thanks but no thanks because they intended to cut down the nets on their own in 2010 after winning the championship.
The players reminded Hamm of what they said after they defeated Eastwood, and relished the chance to prove a point to their coach.
Junior Emelia Strickland, who was named the tournament''s MVP, was one of the players who was asked about cutting down the nets. She said it was extremely satisfying to play such a tough defensive game in the championship to help the Lady Eagles secure a title.
"This year was really kind of a rebuilding year for us, I guess, because we lost a lot of seniors last year," Strickland said. "We have a lot of young people on the team this year that contributed a lot. Without them doing what they did, we wouldn''t have even been at state."
All 15 players saw minutes this season for the Lady Eagles. Hamm used three teams throughout games to keep his players fresh. The rotations gave eighth-grader Taylor Hairston and a sophomore like Kayla Taylor, who was one of the players who helped defend K.K. Payne in the title game, equal chances to shine.
The championship helped send seniors Caitlin Osterman, Erin Williams, and Kathryn Scarbrough out in style. It also set the bar even higher for Strickland and classmates Julianna Gorman, Sarah McDaniel, Ashley Canida, Rachel Johnson, and Kate McDill. Strickland hopes they can help set the tone for sophomores Leah Taylor and Hannah Fisher and freshmen Alyka Hamm and Maggie Gardner to help the Lady Eagles duplicate their success next season.
Osterman said the team''s use of three rotations should give it confidence to be even better next season. She said the team''s pressure defense and 3-point shooting figure to be even more effective in 2010-11 to help the team make another title run.
"I didn''t really expect (to win the title)," Osterman said. "It is a very pleasant surprise. We did assume next year would be a little bit better because we are only losing three seniors and there is a lot of talent in the lower classes.
"I think the class below really wants to get it for their senior year. They''ll probably work extra hard on it for next year."
The Lady Eagles (9-5) rallied from a 13-3 halftime deficit to beat Chilton 26-24 on Friday to reach the title game and set the stage for the girls to live up to their promise.
"It was just a real, tough defensive game," Hamm said.
Against Eastwood, Victory Christian trailed 2-0 at the end of the first quarter, but Hamm and the players didn''t lose confidence. The Lady Eagles handled Eastwood''s pressure defense and didn''t commit a lot of turnovers. They also used four players to shut down Payne, who had only nine points.
A 12-point second quarter helped Victory Christian regain its footing.
"They wanted it, worked for it, and even though it might be a year early, it was well worth it," Hamm said.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.