Two teams in position to bring home girls basketball title
The time for a state title in girls' basketball could be right around the corner for DeKalb County. Redemption may come in the form of Dennis Watkins and his Stephenson High Lady Jaguars (Class-AAAAA), led by 6-foot senior forward/center Ashley Thomas, and in the Stone Mountain Lady Pirates (Class-AAAA) coached by Dave LaBarrie, who has the county's leading scorer in sophomore guard Angelique Gray.
The last time a girls' state trophy graced the halls of DeKalb County, the Florida Marlins bought themselves a championship team that knocked off the Braves in the National League Championship Series before going on to win the World Series. The Chicago Bulls won their fifth NBA title and Mike Tyson showed his true colors by biting off the ear of Atlanta's favorite son Evander Holyfield.
It's been seven years coming, but it looks as though we are on the brink of a big time celebration, barring the usual circumstances such as injuries, loss of mental focus and inconsistent execution on the hardwood.
The Lady Pirates are ranked first in Class 4-A after winning tough games that took them down to the wire.
"There's a lot of good basketball teams in the county," said LaBarrie. "And it doesn't get any easier in our division. We'll have to continue to play good disciplined basketball to achieve our goal of winning a state championship."
The Lady Pirates have only one returning starter in 6'3" forward Christon Ingram. Even though they are a young team, LaBarrie said he is proud of the way the team has grasped the game.
"They work very hard on their discipline and execution," he said. "They're coming along well."
The thought of bringing home a state trophy weighs heavy on the minds of all Stone Mountain supporters, students and faculty.
LaBarrie said winning a state championship has to be done in steps.
"We've still got to get to the state, and that's going to be tough," he said. "We know we'll probably have to face the ladies from Mays High, who by the way, are the defending state champions. We've got to get that done first, then we can start thinking about a trophy."
The Lady Jaguars are ranked number three in Class 5-A, but have already avenged their loss to Parkview in the 2003 state finals, beating them earlier this season.
Watkins said it was satisfying to win one against Parkview. "We felt like we owed them a beating since they've come out on top twice on us."
To bring home a trophy in 2004, he said the team must stay focused and execute at both ends of the floor.
The Lady Jaguars are blessed to have four returning starters from a team that finished in the runner-up spot in last year's championship playoffs.
Senior Ashia Reid and junior Rashawn Givens bring experience and capability to the Jaguars' backcourt with Nia Davis contributing off the bench.
Juniors Venea Gartrell and Chandrica Smith bring tenacity along with strong dominating play, sharing the backcourt with Thomas.
Watkins said his team understands that everyone is gunning for them and that they must play every team like they are playing Parkview.
"I tell my girls that we can't afford to take anyone for granted," he said.