A short bench did not stand in the way of Lamar Christian capturing a third straight south state title in girls basketball last season. Dressing only six total players, the Lady Lions won 25 games and played for an overall MAIS state championship, falling short there against Jackson Academy.
This go-round, the team has more depth with 11 players, and it’s showing seemingly every time they take the court. Seventeen games into the 2018-2019 season, the Lady Lions (16-1) have only lost once.
Long-time coach George Coll points to several reasons for their success. One is of course their newfound depth, but also there’s a dedication to the weight room that’s been two years in the making.
“We just really started the weight lifting last year because I felt like that was the thing that was holding us back,” Coll said. “We were skilled enough, but we were not strong enough for the physical play that’s allowed now.”
Behind the weight room and depth lies arguably the most important reason, though.
“These girls come here in the morning and say ‘Coach, can you open the gym before school?’ When you get kids like that, you can do something with them,” Coll said. “They just got that kind of commitment. When you got a collective commitment like that, that’s really what it takes to achieve, and they have been achieving.”
As their record suggests, there’s been only one hiccup. Dealing with foul trouble, Lamar Christian came up short at Simpson Academy back on Nov. 3. The Lady Lions have won 12 in row since, with their most recent victory coming Thursday night at PCS, 53-34.
Team captain Rebekah Engle poured in 24 points to lead the Lady Lions. The senior doubled their second-leading scorer’s total (Catherine Hannabass, 12 points), but all in all it remains a complete team effort, according to Coll.
“She [Engle] does a great job, and the other girls do a great job of setting screens and doing what they can do offensively,” he said. “They understand the team concept of playing together and that the defensive end of the floor is more important than the offensive floor. When they make a commitment to defense, we can play with most people.”
Though the school is small in stature, Lamar Christian has taken down many bigger programs this year including North Forrest, Purvis and Sumrall. As significant as those victories may seem, though, the team is pushing for bigger and better.
“It’s not where you are in December or even January,” Coll said. “It’s where you are in February, and that’s we’re focusing on, seeing how good we can become at the end of the season.”