Goose Creek coach Tim Baldwin was not short on words when asked how well he knew Spring Valley’s Anne Long, his opponent in Friday’s Class 4A girls state championship basketball game.
Baldwin said when he met coach Long, during her tenure at Dutch Fork, “I knew of her because of the fact that, when you get into a profession, you’ve got to know who’s setting the bar.
“Even then, I don’t think I truly appreciated what she had done. You look at her record and you’re like ‘oh my gosh.’ When you get into a sport like ours, you’ve got to respect the people who’ve laid the foundation for you,” he said.
Long retorted, “Coach, I appreciate the kind words, but I’m still going to come at you, though.”
In all seriousness, though, Long was humbled by Baldwin’s remarks.
“That’s some of the highest respect, when you’re respected by your peers,” Long said. “Basically, it all started just trying to give girls an opportunity, just give them a chance to get out there and be their best and let the sky be the limit for their potential. It all started there, and it’s just wonderful to see how that’s blossomed and how everybody’s kind of caught on with it. But I am just a small (drop) in the bucket.”
When the Vikings (24-5) play Goose Creek, they will be aiming to win the seventh state championship of Long’s career. With a career record of 823-196 in 39 years, Long has made a mark on South Carolina girls’ basketball.
“If I win one state championship or if I win seven, success is just helping people reach their fullest potential and just having those experiences of really knowing what winning is all about,” she said.
Christian Hithe, a junior transfer in her first season at Spring Valley, said regardless of Friday’s outcome, Long has done that for her.
“She’s always taught me how to play that extra level,” said Hithe, the Vikings’ leading scorer. “She treats us like daughters. I don’t even look at her as a coach. I look at her as a role model. I look at her like that’s my mom, she has my back on and off the court.”
Knowing Long has their best interests at heart is part of what has driven the Vikings this season.
Long said she is not the same coach she was in 2011, when she led the Vikings to their most recent title with stars Asia Dozier and Xylina McDaniel. The Vikings are a team of role players.
“These young ladies have loosened me up a little bit,” she said. “They helped me relax a little bit. This team, quite honestly, we haven’t had ideal practices all the time … but we can go out the next day and play great.
“They taught me to accept things a little bit more. It’s OK to not be perfect all the time,” Long said of the girls, such as senior guard Megan Davis, who believed in preseason that the Vikings were state champions. “They’ve helped me be more of an optimist to know that, if you just stick with you principles and try to make it happen day in and day out, it just might happen.”