MINERAL – It’s been nine months since the Louisa County women’s basketball team celebrated the program’s first VHSL Class 4 State Championship with a 59-51 victory over Pulaski County.
The celebration that followed included lots of laughs, tears and selfies in recognition of a mission accomplished throughout the season.
This winter, coach Nick Shreck and his team embark on a new journey as they prepare to become the second school in VHSL Class 4 history to repeat as State Champions.
“Last year was definitely magical,” said Schreck. “Everyone involved can always say they were champions of the state. We have accomplished something that no one will ever be able to take away.
The Lions are sacking eight players from last year’s state championship squad. This familiarity with not only the system, but the experience of playing in high pressure games and situations could be a boost for the Lions this season. Additionally, Schreck said he has had the most girls tried for junior and varsity teams this year than at any time during his tenure as Louisa coach.
“This year’s team has a lot of potential,” said Schreck. “We have a good group coming back from last year and we will need some players to fill the roles of hosting the six seniors that we lost if we are to do another race.”
Olivia McGhee, the 2020-21 basketball player of the year in Central Virginia, is back for another season after leading the Jefferson District in scoring for the second straight season at 22.8 points per game with 11 , 5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 3.2 steals a night.
Another returning from last year’s squad is junior guard Sylvie Jackson, who averaged a career-high 19.7 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.9 steals and 3.5 assists in of his first season with the program.
“Last year’s experience was definitely different due to COVID, but we all made sacrifices to continue to be successful,” Jackson said. “Winning the championship showed how hard we worked on the training and the chemistry we all had, on and off the pitch.”
Another key to last year’s success was the Lions’ ability to freeze so quickly. Jackson said the chemistry within the team was almost instantaneous.
“I realized in the first week of training last year that we had all the pieces we needed to win a state championship,” she said. “Coach Schreck has made it clear that winning the championship is our main goal all season, so that’s what we’ve all been working for.”
From the start of the season, Schreck and his team set ambitious goals for themselves.
“Playing our best basketball at the end of the season and giving us a chance to have a good run in the playoffs,” he said of the team’s goals. “We were confident that we could compete and play with anyone in the state. Once we started up and started winning, even with some of our key players out or injured and other players stepping up, it ‘is when I really felt like we could do a race. “
Confidence began to grow during the regular season when the Lions won the Jefferson District title. They followed that up with a win over the perennial powerhouse Monaco in the Region 4B Championship game. They Louisa capped a perfect 15-0 season with a road victory over Pulaski County to lift the trophy.
As with most teams last season, the Lions’ challenges have extended beyond the pitch due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Being able to compete and play to regain some sense of normalcy has been a blessing,” said Schreck. “We were very grateful to our school administration for allowing this to happen. “
The support also extended to the community of Louisa.
“I think it was great for our community to have sports and to be able to keep up even though they couldn’t attend our games,” said Schreck. “We felt the support of the community during our run and Louisa is a great place where the community really supports their sports teams. I think our run has given the community something to distract from the pandemic. “
Jackson said the state championship helped set the tone for the offseason.
“Winning the title motivated me to work harder during the summer during the AAU and then during the offseason on my own,” she said. “Working harder than last year is one of the ways we can come back this year. “
Schreck was impressed with the hunger the players showed ahead of winter training.
“The offseason has been great,” he said. “We had a good participation in our training. We have a lot of new faces in the program, at both levels, and I think the enthusiasm and interest in the program is at an all time high. “
With high expectations, both internally and externally, the Louisa County coach made sure to challenge his team with realistic goals.
“The message at the start of the season and during off-season training was to not be satisfied,” said Schreck. “We have to put in even more work [in] lived up to expectations and I hope they understand that the goal is even bigger for us this year.
Schreck said the biggest hurdle is not taking last year’s success for granted.
“We were successful last year because we did everything right from the start of the season,” he said. “Our attitude, focus and mentality were there in every game and in every practice and the results showed themselves.”
Heading into the season, Schreck was impressed with what he saw from this year’s squad. He has seen a lot of potential from this group, but realizes that they have to spend the regular season developing depth and getting players to fill expanded roles for the six seniors lost to graduation.
“I like where we are right now,” he said. “We have a group that works very hard and they will need to quickly master the systems we use, both offensively and defensively, but they are doing very well and recovering them quickly. Our goal is to always play our best basketball towards the end of the season. I think this team has the potential to do another round, but we will have to develop some depth if we are to play the style we want. “
Louisa County opens its regular season Friday, Dec. 3 at home against Spotsylvania. Schreck said his team are eager to start.
“As always, when you win a championship and you have a lot of returning players, the expectations are at an all time high for us. I think this group has the potential to have another special year,” he said. “We have a lot of good pieces and we just need to come together and find the extra depth it takes to be a Championship team and race. It’s going to be a fun season and we are looking forward to it.”
Jackson said the Lions are up to the challenge.
“Our biggest goal is to remake a state championship,” she said. “We know what it takes to be successful and to win. We just need to have the same amount of effort, hard work and determination that we did last season. “