Holy Innocents' girls head coach Nichole Dixon led the Bears to the Class A Private state title.

Class A Basketball Blog: “One Shining Moment” from championship coaches

All four talk about the key moment of this season

It’s time to put a bow on the 2018-2019 basketball season. But before we transition to the spring sports next week, in honor of “March Madness,” we asked the four championship-winning coaches to give us their “one shining moment” from this season.

Private Boys: Drew Catlett, St. Francis 

“We had to replace 11 players from our 2017-18 state semifinal team that went 27-4. We had three starters returning, Dwon Odom, Chase Ellis, and CJ Riley. So we had to have several new and younger players play key roles for our team this year. 

I believe our big moment came when we were playing Mt. Bethel in a region game in December. They are new to GHSA and to our region and they were very good. We were down 12 to start the fourth quarter and came back to win that game by 2. A few of our younger players were really key for us getting that win. I think our confidence grew from there. 

We also then went on to win our next three games against bigger classification schools. Mountain View (7A), Blanche Ely (they just won Florida 8A championship), and Newton (7A). I believe that stretch got us prepared to win our region regular season, the region tournament, and eventually the state title.”

Private Girls: Nichole Dixon, Holy Innocents’

“We had a very young, but talented team this year. Early in the year we struggled to play with a sense of urgency and intensity that are the trademarks of championship teams. However, the schedule was intentionally created in a way for us to have instant feedback. If we weren’t giving our best team effort and playing fundamental basketball, we were hit with a loss. The goal was for us to be battle tested. In December we had moments of greatness, but we still struggled playing four quarters of high mental and physical basketball. On January 12th, we played Cherokee County in the Krossover Classic. For 2 ½ quarters Cherokee played with intelligence and intensity. At one point we were down 20 plus. Cherokee was playing the way we want to play at Holy Innocents’ all the time. Around the middle of the 3rd quarter, our team had that moment. They fought back and matched their opponent’s intensity. While we ended up losing by 6, our players and coaches knew we could be a different team if we chose to play the game as it should be played. Our coaching staff changed our practice schedule and pre-game warm-up to emulate the tempo and style of play we knew the girls we capable of having. Our practices were at the level of a college program, and to our players’ credit, they responded. If we missed lay-ups or did not give our best effort, there were consequences. The energy on both offense and defense was electric in our practices and our sense of urgency went to a level of champions. From that time on, we did not lose a game but more important, we did not lose a single moment. We seized every moment in practice, in our film time, during our team bonding, and in games. Every player that started and came off the bench played the game in such a way that elevated our play. They truly shined like the stars they were created to be. They loved each other so well, and you could feel it just by the way they treated each other. The key is that they loved one another so well that they felt comfortable pushing each other to be better on and off the court. They began to understand that the coaches loved them and that is why we pushed them to be the best they could be and that their best is enough. In the state championship on March 6th, I had the opportunity of a lifetime. Our girls played for each other and put aside their personal agendas. Because of it, they played one of the best games I have ever been a part of as a coach. We looked like poetry in motion. Every player, manager, coach, parent, and fan played a part in who we became; we are OneTeam with many unique parts. Check out the picture “cheer after the charge” and look at our bench. Our girls celebrated each other’s success.

“I couldn’t be happier for a group of young ladies to FEEL what it was like to play with and for people you love. In a culture that sometimes forgets why sports are so special, our girls got to experience it this year. When you give to your friend/neighbor, you always get back 10 fold. I watched these girls learn how to love and give to each other. Hopefully, they will carry this lesson on into other parts of their lives and be the kind of leaders that make this world a better place. Basketball is simply the vehicle some us take to learning and growing. At the end of the day, what will last forever are the friendships and memories created through a lot of challenges, blood, sweat and tears.”

Public Boys: Marcus Shaw, Calhoun County

“The most memorable moment from this season would be our Final 4 win against Wilkinson County. In the fourth quarter after going up 7 or 8 points it seemed as if we had complete control of the game. However, this game seemed to be unfolding before our eyes in which everything that could go wrong was in fact starting to go wrong. Our lead had vanished and a technical foul was called with 25 seconds left in the game. After free throws we found ourselves down four points with the opposing team having possession of the basketball and it seemed as if it would take nearly a miracle to win this game. However, we attended church services as a team nearly every single Sunday of the season. Therefore, we kept our faith that a championship is what God had for us leading us to keep believing that we still had a chance to win the game. Our kids showed the size of their hearts and never gave up, fighting back to force overtime in which we faced similar obstacles in the overtime period. We continued to play with  determination and we were able to win the game 77-69 in double overtime. We were never the biggest team on the court but played with the hearts of giants. This game showed us that if you keep your faith and never quit, you can always recover from any situation and win in the game of basketball as well as life.”

Public Girls: Fran McPherson, Marion County

“I would have to say that I don’t know if this was a shining moment, but I would have to go back to our basketball banquet last season where we were supposed to be celebrating our season and highlight some outstanding individual performances. In the three years that I had been here, we won 64 ball games and lost 23. We went to the Sweet Sixteen my first year, Elite Eight my second year, and played Greenville in the State Championship this year we had the banquet. (last season) So I was really excited to celebrate our success as a basketball program headed in the right direction and wanted to say many great things about the individuals in our program and reward them with some super nice hardware. Well, the whole banquet was like a funeral, they were still mad and disappointed in themselves for losing in the State game. No matter what cool stuff we handed out and praises we gave, the team was disappointed in their performance. No amount of cheering up, recognizing, really taking about how proud I was of them…nothing seemed to bring a smile. The vibe of that banquet was so bad… this group just expected better of themselves, and it showed. 

“I think that loss in the State, transformed our mental and physical approach to this entire season. We played with such determination each and every game. We were 28-1. The one loss coming to Greenville when twin, Ansley Whitley got in foul trouble in the first quarter. By the fourth quarter, both twins, Ashley and Ansley were cramping bad, we lost to Greenville by three buckets. One not so good game this entire season! I think it hit me, in the fourth quarter when I felt like we pretty much had the game against Calhoun County, even though the twins, once again, were cramping badly. They played on in that game with visible muscle cramps and they really couldn’t walk, but finished the game. I really didn’t need to worry and fret so much about each and every game this season, even this state championship game,this team was performing and playing with a single-minded purpose, “to win the state championship, and nothing/nobody…was going to stop them! That was their goal ever since that banquet, I guess I really should have sat down and just tried to enjoy our games a little more….”they had my back!”

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