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Loyola’s Womens Basketball Team Wins State Championship

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by John James Marshall

Amid the celebration that continued in the locker room after the Loyola Flyers had won the Class 3A state championship with a 55-41 win over Albany, it suddenly hit senior guard Kiki Robinson.

“Wait a minute,” she said for all of her teammates to hear, “I’m going to have to take this jersey off for the final time. I don’t ever want to take this jersey off!”

Ninety minutes earlier, assistant coach Rob Horneman was giving his final defensive instructions to the team before the starting lineups were announced. It was the usual “you’ve got her and you’ve got her” discussion. Then Horneman punctuated his final words by looking each of the five starters in the eye with these words: “Heart of a champion.”

And with those words, Evandrielle Matthews, Cinderella Linnear, Jasmin Anderson, Alexis Martin and Morgan Rogers took the floor at the Thomas Assembly Center in Ruston.

Awaiting them were the Albany Hornets, the No. 2 seed. In addition to beating the Hornets, the Loyola girls were also trying to overcome a four-year quest to get the top; time spent as freshmen watching the games before becoming eligible because of residency requirements; losing in the quarterfinals two years ago to the eventual state champion; being devastated by injuries last year but still making it to the state semifinals, only to lose to another eventual state champion and having a target on their backs almost the entire season as win after win piled up.

Finally it was here. When Rogers stepped in to the center circle for the opening jump ball, it was time to play 32 more minutes and finish the job that had started so long ago.

***

Very early, it didn’t look so good. The last two things a coach wants is to get behind by so much at the start that they can’t climb out of the hole and foul trouble.

Though Albany scored the first two baskets of the game, the Flyers quickly established themselves in the middle of the first quarter and took the lead.

As he sat on the bench in the first quarter, head coach Kyle Tanner had to be happy that his team didn’t fall victim to some early jitters and had already taken a lead. What he didn’t like was that the leading scorer was sitting beside him.

Rogers, a 6-foot-3 center, picked up two fouls in the first three minutes. Typically, that would mean Rogers would sit out the rest of the first half and not risk picking up a third foul. It’s not the first time that has happened to Rogers, but with the stakes so high, it wasn’t exactly in Tanner’s game plan.

But Tanner also knew he had a secret weapon – the five girls who were on the court.

Instead of an inside-oriented game, the Lady Flyers simply switched to a more up-tempo game and continued to keep the lead. Meanwhile, the intense defensive pressure by the Flyers was beginning to get to the Hornets. As long as that was happening, Tanner could afford to keep Rogers on the bench.

After holding Albany to only four points in the second quarter, Loyola had a 24-17 halftime lead. Neither team could get much offense going in the third quarter and the Flyers led 30-24 as they entered the final period, eight minutes to a state championship.

Early in the fourth quarter, things were getting uncomfortable for the Flyers as their six-point lead evaporated in five seconds as Albany made a three-point basket, stole the inbounds pass and made a layup. Just like that it was a one-point game.

But the Flyers didn’t have time to get nervous about it as Martin immediately broke free for a basket and was fouled. When she made the free throw the lead was back to four. Martin then made a rebound basket on the next possession and the lead was back to six with five minutes to play.

Albany never got any closer. Martin was named the game’s Outstanding Player, scoring 13 points and grabbing 18 rebounds. Anderson would have been a worthy recipient as well. She kept things calm as Albany continually applied full-court pressure. She had a game-high of 18 points and made four free clutch free throws down the stretch.

The Flyers, who have never been confused with a great free throw shooting team this season, made nine free throws in the fourth quarter under some intense pressure.

* * *

Yes, Kiki Robinson did finally take the jersey off for the last time. But it was looooong after the game was over. When she did, the lasting memories of that night and that season were about to begin.

* * *

Following the team’s big win, Loyola College Prep hosted a special lunch for the girls in the school’s brand new cafeteria, which will open to all students after Spring Break. The girls cut the ribbon to open the new cafeteria and were joined by school principal Frank Israel, Superintendent Sr. Carol Shively and Bishop Michael G. Duca, all of whom offered their congratulations.