FORT WAYNE — South Side may have won its third straight SAC tournament title, but Archers coach Juanita Goodwell made it clear just how unique this championship is for this year’s inexperienced group.
“It’s starting their story,” Goodwell said after the Archers’ 59-51 win over Concordia in the final Saturday at Wayne. “This championship is theirs.”
The top-seeded Archers won their fourth title in the past five years and played in their eighth straight SAC tournament championship game.
The Archers’ five titles (all since 2006) rank fourth in SAC tournament history.
After graduating three starters from last year’s Class 4A state runner-up team, the Archers have been melding the old with the new.
“They have been in the shadow of what the other squad did last year,” Goodwell said. “What they did this week is theirs. It’s their story, and it’s about that. They get to hold onto that, this is their championship.
“This team has different personnel, and we have had to adjust to that. They are coming to find their own, and this is a good time to do that.”
Holdover starters Lakyn Gulley (two points) and Brittni Clopton (eight) combined for only 10 points, but emerging stars Chelsea Rogers (23 points) and Lekesha Stephens (19 points) stepped up in the championship game.
“The feeling is great,” Rogers said of the title. “Since we lost three starters from last year, and for our other players to come in this year and to win this, it really means a lot.
“Winning two years in a row is a lot of it right there. You don’t want to lose. We will do whatever it takes to get the job done.”
If there were any doubts about whether the Archers could continue their SAC tournament success, it wasn’t coming from inside the program.
“We get doubted every single day, so coming out and winning something like this maybe shows them something,” Gulley said.
While the Archers’ vaunted full-court press was effective, most the Cadets’ turnovers came in the half court. The Cadets had 15 turnovers and made 16 of 38 (42 percent) from the field.
“One of the biggest things we do well is adjust to the game,” Goodwell said. “A lot of our opponents are comfortable with playing against our press so they have made adjustments to it. We wait to see how they attack it, and we make our adjustments. The fact the girls are able to make those adjustments on the court is huge.
“We just have to come in with a Plan A, a Plan B and maybe a Plan Z. It goes that far.”
On offense, the Archers worked inside-out with Rogers getting three 3-pointers, Stephens hitting 5 of 11 from the field and 9 of 9 from the free-throw line.
“We work on every girls’ strengths, and we build on that,” Gulley said. “We got into our bigs, and they are some of the best bigs around, and they got easy layups and stuff.”
Third-seeded Concordia (10-3) got 20 points from Dejour Young and 17 from Courtney Smith.
The Archers went on a 7-0 run at the end of the second quarter to expand the margin to 34-24 and were never threatened again.
“We had a space in the game where we turned it over with unforced errors maybe 2-3 times in a row, and that was huge,” Concordia coach Dave Miller said. “It allowed them a little space with the lead, and we could never cut into that.”
The SAC tournament is sponsored by SportONE Ortho Northeast.