Coach Bobby Young has been to the girls’ basketball state finals eight times. But as he leads the Columbia Capitals in the Class 2A finals for the ninth time this Saturday, he is no more comfortable than he was when Columbia won its last title, in 2004.
“I’m never comfortable,” said Young, who has six state titles under his belt. “Even though I have won many championships, every one is different and you want to win as many as you can.”
As Columbia faces Bishop England at the Colonial Life Arena, Young’s players are confident that his experience is to their advantage.
“He has the experience, so his thoughts and his opinions are going to be the best way for us to go,” senior guard Norrisha Victrum said.
So far removed from the program’s last championship appearance, Young said the Capitals are a different team from the last squads he coached in the finals. The Capitals appeared in the state title game seven out of 11 years between 1994 and 2004.
The players during that era had a level of familiarity with the big game that aided in preparing for it. By contrast, this year’s squad used the disappointment of last year’s semifinal loss to fuel a fight against several early-season obstacles.
Columbia lost seven players from that squad, and was rudderless at the beginning of the season.
“I think that we didn’t know where we were going, we didn’t have any identity,” Young said.
But with Victrum and Jerea Myers leading, the Capitals turned things around during the Christmas break.
“At the beginning of the season, it was very hard because everyone wasn’t as serious about the game as others,” Victrum said. “It was tough love.”
Columbia got its house in order with a “next man step up” philosophy, Young said.
Bringing up several junior varsity players and expecting them all to contribute, the Capitals made the most of their depleted roster.
Senior Dorothy Brown stepped into a starting role at guard and became the team’s second leading scorer, behind Victrum. Sophomore Alexis Foulks also became a clutch player.
“We had people to step up on any given night,” said Young, pointing out added help from Yashee Johnson and Monique Woodson as well.
The Capitals’ opponents, the 27-0 Battling Bishops, are new to the finals. Bishop England’s athletics program has claimed 100 state championships but the girls basketball team is seeking its first.
Both teams this week are working to prepare mentally for the biggest game they have played.
“It is an awakening, when you walk into that arena and you see all those people up there,” Young said.
It’s a wake-up call the Capitals plan to be ready to answer.
Reach Nelson at (803) 771-8419