All through the 2011-12 basketball season, Midlands girls have been at the top of their game.
Four local teams held No. 1 rankings in three classifications, and five Columbia-area girls basketball teams reached the state semifinals.
Three — Columbia, Dreher and Dutch Fork — will take the court at Colonial Life Arena this weekend to contest for state titles.
This is no coincidence, the coaches said.
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“The support of the districts, the communities and the schools here has kind of propelled us,” said coach Teresa Jones, whose Dreher Blue Devils play in the Class 3A title game on Saturday.
“We are charged to support one another.”
That bond is particularly strong in Richland 1, this year home of four state semifinalists. Lower Richland and Keenan, no strangers to the state finals, saw their quests end in the semifinals this year, but Jones said they are all on the same team now.
“We’re making each other better all through the season when we’re playing each other, and when we’re playing someone else, we are rooting each other on,” Jones said.
It helps that basketball has long been a specialty of the metropolitan area, Columbia coach Bobby Young said.
The Midlands teams visiting the Colonial Life Arena this weekend are hardly new to the championship game. The five area programs represented in the state semifinals last weekend have captured 15 state titles.
But girls basketball achievement has increased as opportunities have grown, Young said.
As his Capitals prepare for the Class 2A title game, he is thankful for a system that gets girls involved in basketball at a young age.
“Interest is so high in the area, and you have so many park programs at places like Caughman Road, that a lot of these girls have been playing for a long time,” Young said. “And they place a lot of emphasis on basketball in middle school.”
Added to a greater concentration of talent and opportunity is a cache of passionate and experienced coaches determined to take their games to the next level.
“I think a big part of it is coaches being more organized in the summer, taking as many opportunities to work on the game, practice and train as possible,” Dutch Fork’s Faye Norris said.
Striving against teams with similar talent and motivation – for Dutch Fork, it was nationally-ranked region rival Spring Valley – has sharpened the local teams, too, she said.
“No doubt facing strong teams forces you to be stronger…That matured them real fast,” Norris said. “It forced us to bring something new to the game every time. We were always working on adding something to our game.”
“We are all making each other stronger,” she said. “When we go in the gym, we have to bring our A-game because we know they will. We don’t take days off because we know they don’t.”
Dreher sophomore Kaydra Duckett said the real key behind Columbia teams’ success boils down to one clear and simple fact.
“I play with a lot of these girls in the AAU circuit and one thing I know about all of them is they want it,” Duckett said. Reach Nelson at (803) 771-8419