Hours of hard work all season long built a foundation of success for Lake Mary’s Girls Basketball team as they raced to a 31-1 record over the course of the 2009-10 season.
And after a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Morgan Jones on Friday night sent the Rams to the State Finals, Lake Mary second year coach Rick Weyers acknowledged how hard his team has worked.
“I love this team and I love everything they’ve given,” Weyers said. “I’ve told them all year, from the beginning, that we had to work hard enough to feel like, when we came here, that we worked hard enough to deserve to win. Now that we’re here, we’ve worked hard enough to deserve to win these games.”
The Rams got what they deserved on Saturday.
Lake Mary climbed to the top of the mountain, winning the third girls basketball state title in school history with a 49-40 victory over the Miami Lourdes Bobcats to claim the 2010 FHSAA Class 6A Girls Basketball State Championship. The Rams were also crowned state champions in 1998 and 2006.
“It’s a feeling of relief and joy that I’ve never really had as coach. That’s the best way I can describe it,” Weyers said as he and his team of 15 basked in the glory of their accomplishment. “I’m really proud. When you ask kids to work hard and you really do work them hard, make them stay committed to it, push them through it. You talk about why you’re doing it. You talk about these moments. To come up big and get it done, to see them celebrate and see that work pay off for the kids, that’s my biggest joy.”
The joy was written on the faces of each one of the girls as they smiled through the tears. Tears that had once joined blood and sweat as they put their all into this season. Now they represented a happy ending. Their motto, “One Team, One Dream,” helped them maintain focus throughout. As they celebrated their victory, they chanted that motto and danced in celebration, finally getting to let their guard down after 33 games of keeping it up.
“It just feels awesome, it just feels like…,” junior Morgan Jones said, before pausing to take a deep breath, compose herself and think. “It just is awesome…it feels like we really won. We really did beat them.”
After draining the buzzer-beater that sent the Rams to the title game on Friday night, it was Jones who took control from the start in the championship game. The star junior scored 30 of Lake Mary’s 49 points, leaving no doubt why she is one of the most widely regarded prep players not only in Florida, but in the country.
“I’m just happy for her because this is a huge stage,” Weyers said. “To see her come out and really show how good a player she is and prove to everybody why she gets the hype that she does, she’s incredible. I’m just really happy for her to get a little monkey off her back here in Lakeland and put that out there. She’s deserving of all the accolades that she gets and all the attention she gets. She’s a special player.”
SENIORS SHOW THE WAY
Jones was happiest for her teammates, especially seniors Danielle White, DJ Irving and Shelbi Lindsey, who each had large contributions to the Rams title run and who can now graduate as champions.
“We have seniors out here that wanted it so bad and I just feel great to be able to help them win this championship,” Jones said.
Irving was the team’s vocal leader from the point guard position and was still in disbelief after the victory.
“It’s unbelievable,” Irving said. “Words can’t describe it and it hasn’t hit me yet that I’m a state champion.”
Lindsey, who transferred over from Lake Brantley this season, was a key cog in taking some of the focus off of Jones in the paint. She grabbed a team-high eight rebounds on Saturday. For the season, Lindsey was second on the team in rebounds with 195 and led the team in steals with 2.7 per game.
“It means a lot to me,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to be in this position where I am today, especially around my AAU team and a lot of my friends. It feels great.”
White was ineligible as a junior and watched helplessly as the Rams lost by just two in the state final last season. But this season she was given her shot and she delivered.
After Lake Mary had taken a 41-37 lead, Lourdes pulled back within one at 41-40, but White hit a dagger of a three to put Lake Mary ahead 44-40. The Rams went on to make 5-of-6 free throw attempts down the stretch to put the game on ice.
“It was a big play,” Lake Mary coach Rick Weyers said of White’s three. “I’m really proud of her. I’ve been on her all year about getting in the gym and shooting extra shots. My statement has always been: ‘You’re going to have a chance at the end of this season. It’s just going to be whether you hit it or not.’ It’s funny that it came down to that.”
The three seniors were joined in celebration by 12 underclassmen and Weyers said it took every one of their efforts for Lake Mary to succeed.
“We have better practices with all these kids,” said Weyers, who brought only seven players with him to Lakeland last season on a team that had next to no depth. “Even though a lot of these girls didn’t play tonight, they played the role of the [other] teams in practice and are a big reason why we were as prepared as we were.
“It was a great collective effort. To see all those girls celebrate and to have a big family, that’s what we’ve been, a big family. That can be a good or a bad thing, but this year it’s been a blessing and a wonderful experience.”
BUZZER BEATER BREATHES NEW LIFE
Before the Rams could reign supreme, they had to get through a tough South Broward team, ranked No. 16 in the nation, first.
There were times on Friday when it seemed like the Rams would never get their chance at a state championship. It didn’t help that Morgan Jones was having the worst game of her life.
She was 3-of-19 from the field, 0-for-4 from three. She had just seven points and five rebounds, but nine turnovers. It was the type of night she would struggle to forget at the worst possible time.
But all that changed in one shot.
Jones drained a 30-foot three-pointer as time expired to break a 36-36 tie and send the Lake Mary Rams to the state title game with a 39-36 victory over the South Broward Bulldogs on Friday night.
“I’m so glad I made that shot,” Jones said. “Looking back now you don’t remember the rest of the game, you just remember that shot. So I’m glad I made that.”
But Jones did acknowledge that she launched the game-winner on a wing and a prayer.
“Considering I didn’t make a shot the whole game, honestly I was like, ‘it’s a tie game.’ I told DJ, ‘as soon as I get the ball, set the screen for me and I’m going to come off.’ I just put it up there,” she said. “I saw it going in before it went in. I released and I saw the spin. I knew it was going in. It just took me like four seconds after it went in to say ‘oh wow, that just went in.’“
By the time Jones realized it, she had been pummeled by her teammates and lay at the bottom of a celebration pile on the Lakeland Center floor. But those teammates had faith in her all along, even through the 3-for-19 and the nine turnovers.
“Morgan has a tendency to pull up from like half court and they just go in,” senior guard DJ Irving said. “She pulled up from the bench and I thought ‘oh that’s going in.’ It had that perfect rotation.”
Jones finished with 10 points for the night and fellow junior Sarah Taylor led Lake Mary with 19 points and nine rebounds in a stellar performance from one of the area’s most underrated players.
While Jones finished as the hero, Taylor will go down as the unsung hero for keeping her composure through the adversity of a deficit that reached as high as 12 points. The junior fought for every rebound and loose ball. She scored eight of her 19 points in the fourth quarter.
“When Morgan is out like that, the other people on the team need to step up,” Taylor said. “I felt like I needed to step up because my team needed me. We struggled, but I needed to step up.”
The Rams overcame deficits of 11-2 after one, 19-14 at halftime, 29-21 after three and 35-23 with just over four minutes to go. They didn’t lead until Taylor knocked down a pair of free throws with 26 seconds to go. The free throws culminated a 13-0 Lake Mary run and pulled the Rams ahead, 36-35. But the lead was brief.
At the other end, with the clock ticking down, South Broward’s Krystal Saunders drew a foul with 13.7 seconds left and got a chance to put the Bulldogs back ahead at the free throw line. Saunders tied it at 36 with her first free throw and missed the second.
Taylor got the rebound off the miss and the Rams took the ball up court, but South Broward’s press forced Weyers to call a timeout with 5.1 seconds to go.
Out of the timeout, Jones got her shot and drained it, sending the team, the coach and the evenly divided crowd into a frenzy.
Lake Mary players piled on Jones on one side of the court while South Broward players fell to the ground and sobbed in defeat on the other side. The Rams had lived to play another day and would go on to claim the gold on Saturday.
A ‘HERALD‘-ED GROUP
On March 21, The Sanford Herald will recognize the Rams’ accomplishment as Class 6A State Champions with a four-page pullout section commemorating their title run.
The section will include stories, pictures and congratulatory tidings from Lake Mary businesses.