Lady Royals Success Assured To Continue
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Mar 2, 2014, 12:09
David Breidenbach/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
PRINCE GEORGE — The Lady Royals had experienced many close calls during a perfect 20-0 regular season and two closely contested wins in the playoffs, but never had they been put to the edge of the plank like Atlee had done through almost a full four quarters of play.
The team that was eyeing their second-consecutive playoff upset in as many games had taken a 15-point lead into halftime over Prince George, putting the heavily-favored Lady Royals in a hole they had not been in all season long. Yet, like they have all season, Prince George responded in the second half.
The Lady Royals clamped down on defense and slowly chipped away on offense as they allowed the Lady Raiders to score just 19 second-half points, tying the game on two Ariel Stephenson free throws as only a shade over two minutes remained. However, Atlee would score four more points and Stephenson's last-gasp 3-pointer went off iron, resulting in a 54-52 loss in the Regionals Quarterfinals.
While the loss may have been disappointing for a team that had strung together 22-straight victories, it also had to be put into perspective. Prince George accomplished a season that had never been done before and had matured over into a team that never relents, something head coach Billy Gray mentioned a few days after his teams ouster.
"All you tell the kids is that you want to be in a position to win it and the kids did that," Gray said of last week's game. "They fought back and lots of teams would have crumbled and lost that game by 30 points."
And it was the loss which showcased another of example of the trajectory this Prince George squad is one.
While the Lady Royals have had this whole group together for the entirety of their high school careers, it was a team that although talented, let outside factors hurt them in games during previous seasons. However, this year's group understood they would not always blow-out opponents nor receive the favorable calls.
Instead of letting it affect the way they played during the game, they allowed it to fuel them to victories like it did against Manchester and L.C. Bird in two consecutive close contests. It's what above all else, gives Gray and the team a sense of what's to come next season.
"It's definitely a sign of maturity and we'll use that game as a teaching tool," Gray explained of the loss to Atlee. "I don't know if we were ever down by that much at all this year, but when it's all said and done, these are just young high school kids ... Would I have liked to win the game and move on? Yes. But am I extremely proud of my girls about what they were able to accomplish and the way they fought back? Absolutely."
Gray has every reason to be excited about what they accomplished, but he should be even more anxious to see what they can be capable of next season with another year of experience under their belts.
And how successful Prince George can be next season starts with the continued developed of point guard Jo-Jo Taylor. Taylor, a second-team All-Conference 12 selection, was the unquestioned leader of the Lady Royals.
The junior ran the offense to perfection while also supplying timely defense on the other end of the court. While other teammates may receive much of the attention, it was Taylor who is just as instrumental to Prince George's success as anyone else.
David Breidenbach/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
Her importance shined brightly on the stat-sheet, showcasing all areas in which she can impact a game as she averaged 6.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 4.9 steals per game. Yet, her biggest impact came in the Conference 12 title game against L.C. Bird in which Taylor's only two points came at foul line in the most crucial of moments for the eventual game-winners.
"We've said a lot of good things about her and they're all true," Gray said of his point guard. "The importance of her to our team is staggering ... we are nowhere near the team without Jo."
But the team also wouldn't be as talented without the production of both Markia Smith and Tyrah Washington. Both juniors made the next step in their development by producing more than they had in the past. In fact, it was Washington's 3-point shooting which helped space the floor in order to open up driving lanes.
In addition, Smith's ability to finish in the low-blocks especially with other teammates being double-teamed proved critical throughout the Lady Royals' history-making season.
"Having Markia and Tyrah step up to the plate and hit out of the park, sort of speak, showed maturity," Gray said. "Without them doing that, we certainly would not have been able to accomplish what we did."
Yet, without a player like Stephenson on their roster, it would have also been impossible. The junior forward is already a talented scorer and defender but has also stated her desire to continue to work to improve next season.
If Stephenson can take that next step and the rest of her teammates follow her lead, Prince George should be right back into contention for a state tournament appearance once again.