High School Sports

Lower Richland's diamonds in the rough

In 21 seasons under coach Debbie Stroman, the Lower Richland Diamond Hornets have reached — and won — seven girls basketball state championship games.

Averaging a state championship every three years, the Diamond Hornets have had more than luck on their side as they built their dynasty.

Stroman’s arrival was not the catalyst of Lower Richland’s basketball success, but she could certainly be considered an accelerant.

“It is what it’s meant to be, but maybe it has turned into something a little bit better,” said Stroman, a Lower Richland alumnus. “Lower Richland was always a good basketball team and rich in tradition. Now, it’s not just a good team, it’s a team that people look at and say, ‘What are they doing at LR?’ ”

With Stroman, the Diamond Hornets were able to quickly ascend from good to great — exemplary even.

With that aim upon her arrival, Stroman set about building a staff as the top priority.

She turned first to Lisa Diaz.

Diaz, a former Division-I player, added a dimension of basketball knowledge that Stroman did not have.

“She brought her perspective from having played point guard, where I played post, and I had to learn not to be intimidated by that knowledge that she had. We were able to use that to make us a stronger well-rounded team.”

Over the years, Diaz’s other strengths — her affability and pragmatic style of communicating with players — have helped make Lower Richland a program that did not just excel at basketball but kept basketball fun.

Additions to the staff such as longtime area resident Bernice Maczyk and former player Andrea Hallmon-Lucas helped foster the family and community atmosphere within the program.

“I think it’s a great thing that the whole coaching staff are former players or students; it really keeps us as a strong group,” said Hallmon-Lucas, who played on the Diamond Hornets’ second title team.

The Diamonds’ first championship came in Stroman’s second year at Lower Richland. As the team worked its way through the undefeated 1993-94 season, Stroman said the community displayed its first — and only — doubts in the Diamond Hornets.

“It seemed like people were against us. They were saying if you’re going to lose one, it’s got to be in the regular season. Almost like they wanted us to lose, but I was thinking we could win them all,” Stroman said.

The Diamond Hornets finished 33-0 that season, defeating Greenwood for the Class 4A title.

They would return to the championship game three seasons later.

Despite starting the 1996-97 season winless at 0-7, Stroman said, the Diamond Hornets turned things around and ran the table to their state title victory against Mauldin.

For the next eight seasons, Lower Richland was an annual playoff contender, but the team fell shy of its ultimate goal.

During that stretch, Stroman focused on coaxing young girls in the Lower Richland, Eastover and Hopkins communities to get involved in recreational basketball. In the stands for her own daughters’ recreational league games, Stroman would meet and chat up the parents of girls such as Dayshaun Richbow and Fannie Goodwin.

“It got to a point in our community where everybody, not just the boys, everybody was playing basketball all the time,” she said.

Then in the 2005-06 season, with her daughter — eventual McDonald’s All-American Morgan Stroman — and that same group of girls who she had coaxed into recreational play, the Lower Richland Diamond Hornets made an emphatic return to the state final.

Their win against Dorman started a four-year run of titles that concluded with their 2008-09 win against Darlington.

After losing several players to graduation, the Diamond Hornets fell into a three-year title drought. But even as the dynasty appeared to wane, Lower Richland remained confident of its place atop the South Carolina basketball pyramid.

That prophetic confidence fulfilled itself this year, when the Diamond Hornets regained the Class 3A title at the Colonial Life Arena to complete the program’s third undefeated season.

Lower Richland remains convinced that many more basketball titles are yet to come. While the Diamond Hornets have missed out on some talents who were zoned for Lower Richland but transferred to other schools, the Lower Richland coaching staff would have it no other way.

“We coach who we have, and a lot of times who we have is some of the best in area,” Stroman said. “We want the girls who want to play for Lower Richland because those are the true Diamonds, and we believe they will be rewarded for that. Because when they come here, when they play for us, they have a chance to leave with championships.”

A 1-in-3 chance to be exact, and that is nothing to sneeze at.

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