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The Class 4A girls basketball championship game at Colonial Life Arena tonight is the rematch Xylina McDaniel had been hoping for.
Spring Valley's 6-foot-1 sophomore center thought about facing Goose Creek again almost immediately after the Vikings earned their second consecutive berth in the title game by defeating Greenwood last weekend.
The Gators, who advanced to the final with a victory against Dutch Fork, are the only South Carolina team to have defeated the defending champion Vikings this season. Goose Creek (27-1) notched a 52-51 victory in the Vikings' preseason invitational in November.
"That was a game we shouldn't have lost," McDaniel said. "We really are looking forward to seeing them again and playing the way we should."
"Redemption is what we want," junior Jocelyn Lawrence said.
The road to redemption will not likely be an easy one for the Vikings (26-2). Goose Creek is undefeated against S.C. teams and is led by 6-foot guard Aleighsa Welch, who averages 18.4 points and 10.1 rebounds per game.
So while the Vikings coasted through the postseason - their 59-36 victory in the semifinal was their smallest margin of victory - coach Anne Long is far from overconfident.
"Looking at who I've got to play, I'm breathing pretty heavy right now," she said.
The Gators broke through to the state final after having lost in the semifinals each of the past two seasons. Goose Creek coach Tim Baldwin said playing in the Vikings' preseason tournament was instrumental in his team developing into a powerhouse.
"It's the kind of tournament you want to be in if you're going to be a great team," Baldwin said. "(Spring Valley) set the standard in South Carolina for basketball, and we knew it was going to be a tough game."
Though the Gators won that game - led by Welch's 19 points - that result has little bearing on expectations for the rematch.
"At this point, we're just peaking," Long said. "We had two starters out for a while, and we've actually only had a couple of games in the playoffs where we felt like we were really playing with our team."
The difference tonight could be sophomore guard/forward Asia Dozier, who sat out the first game with a knee injury.
"I try to turn every negative into a positive, so you know, with that I found that it was a lot easier to analyze the game when you're not playing," said Dozier, the team's second-leading scorer at 15.1 points per game.
"It allowed me to see some of my team's strengths and weaknesses, and I've talked to our coach about those. And I also was able to see some of (Goose Creek's) strengths and weaknesses," Dozier said.
While Dozier enters the game with a clear sense of what she is facing, Welch said the Gators will try not to focus too much on the X-factor she presents.
"We're playing the same team, but at the same time, we are going to have to game-plan for her," Welch said. "We have to pay her as much attention as anybody else that steps on the court."