It took all season, but the Spring Valley Vikings made a believer of coach Anne Long. They also made her a seven-time state champion, defeating Goose Creek 53-46 in the Class 4A girls basketball championship on Friday at Colonial Life Arena.
Senior guard Megan Davis told the coach at the start of the season that the Vikings (25-4) would be state champions. Long, then a self-proclaimed realist, tried to tamp down Davis’ enthusiasm, but as Davis and the Vikings waited to receive their trophy, Long said, “I’m an optimist, baby, especially tonight.”
“I call them the cardiac kids. First part of the season, I didn’t know what I was going to get, I really didn’t,” Long said. “But I tell you what, this is a perfect example of when you believe in something –and they believed in themselves every day – you believe in something and just have a little patience, it just might come through for you.”
Long’s team of role players looked more like a dream team in the title game, as each player came through at crucial moments to keep the Vikings in control.
Spring Valley junior Christian Hithe powered the Vikings to a 6-point first half lead. Hithe posted 11 points and 11 rebounds in the first half, on the way to a game-leading 19 points and 14 rebounds.
The game was not without its tense moments.
When junior post Shantay Taylor picked up her third foul midway through the third period, the Vikings saw their lead shrink to 35-32 over three minutes. With Shayla Nelson’s two free throws and a layup in the final minute of the period, Goose Creek took a 36-35 lead.
But Taylor re-entered the game to start the fourth period, and the Vikings sprang to life. Davis opened the period with two 3-pointers – the second off an assist from Taylor – to put the Vikings back in front.
“It felt amazing, because my shot has been off for a little while, so I finally got it back and it just came at a big moment,” Davis said.
“She’s usually not an outside threat for us, and that’s what you’re supposed to do in big games like this. She put it on her shoulders right there,” Long said.
With Hithe’s steal and fastbreak layup with 6:06 to play, Spring Valley’s lead climbed to seven points.
Senior guard Akia Dunlap said the Vikings’ were confident from the start.
“I believed that we would from the moment we stepped on the court,” she said.
The Vikings started to pull away for the first time five minutes into the game. Dunlap drained her second 3-pointer to put the Vikings in front 12-10, and Spring Valley closed the period with three unanswered baskets, including two putbacks from Taylor. The Vikings stretched their lead to 10 points with back-to-back baskets from Hithe.
But Spring Valley scored no baskets in the final four minutes of the half, and a long jumper from Goose Creek’s Ericka Broughton cut the Gators’ deficit to 30-24 at the break.
The Gators (22-7) got 11 points each from Broughton and Ryan Bishop, but it was not enough to stop the Vikings from winning the program’s third state title in six seasons, the seventh of Long’s career.
“Coach Long believed in us, we believed in her. Everything she does, we know she does it for a reason, and since she’s had so much success, we believed that she would do whatever it takes get us to the point that we’re at now, and since we believed, look where we are now,” Davis said.
Then she carried the state championship trophy into the lockerroom as her teammates cheered, “I believe that we just won.”