Asia Dozier could not bring herself to lift the trophy.
Spring Valley's star guard was handed the second-place prize after the Vikings' 64-63 loss to Goose Creek in Friday's Class 4A championship. Though the state runner-up trophy is nearly a pound lighter than the championship memento Dozier and her teammates hoisted the year before, the sophomore seemed to feel only the weight of the loss as she tried three times to lift the trophy in front of the numbers on her jersey.
Dozier set the trophy down and the Vikings walked away, declining to take a picture with the token - a reminder that sometimes even the biggest successes can be erased by simple mistakes.
"Who cares about all the other games we won? Who cares about the teams we beat by 20 points," junior captain Savonia Bryan said. "This game is what we play for, this is all we care about."
Now Spring Valley, a team that captured lightning in a bottle when it won the 2008-09 title with three freshmen and two juniors starting under a new coach, faces a challenge unlike any it has seen before. The Vikings must figure out how losing the only thing they really wanted can make them stronger. They must glean the lesson from the disappointment, and move on. And they must do it together.
"I told them, we won 26 games together and we've now lost three games together," Long said.
After more than three decades as one of the state's winningest girls' basketball coaches, Long knows that passing blame would poison her young team's chemistry as it tries to pick up the pieces. In a game they could have won - where they tied a state record with 27 first-quarter points and led by 21 points early in the second quarter - the Vikings made plenty of mistakes.
"We thought it was going to be easier than it was. We weren't ready to play all four quarters," Bryan said.
Long said before the game she had implored her players to control their minds, their emotions and their hearts. For parts of the game, she said, they were unable to do that.
"We could have done a lot better on the boards and for a while we couldn't put the ball on the floor," Long said. "We jumped out there and got a good lead, but Goose Creek had some great outside shooting and we just didn't respect that for a while."
A nearly quarter-long scoreless stretch, missed free throws and critical turnovers put the Vikings in the precarious position they faced in the game's final seconds.
The final score was set by a free throw by Goose Creek's Aleighsa Welch after a technical foul by Spring Valley with 5.7 seconds left. The Vikings had spent their last timeout, but when Dozier could find no inlet to inbound the ball, she called another timeout.
It never should have come to that, Long said.
"I am not blaming Dozier for calling that timeout. It's the first thing and the last thing we talked about before they went back out there. Everyone on that floor should have reminded her that we were out of timeouts," Long said.
Though Long knows her players will not forget the loss, she will not let them spend the coming weeks and months listing the coulds and shoulds.
Neither will Bryan.
"It's not going to pull us apart," she said. "It just means we're going to work harder. We're all very competitive, none of us likes to lose."
"It's definitely a lesson learned. Everything we didn't do tonight is what we're going to do every game next year," Bryan said.
Reach Nelson at (803) 771-8419