Back-to-back state titles? It’s a little early to say, but the Morningside girls basketball team has the ingredients to do it since everyone except guard JoJo Witherspoon returns next year and Coach Frank Scott has freshman Sherrell Young lined up to run the offense.
First though, the Monarchs would like time to enjoy Saturday’s 60-50 triumph over Fremont High of Oakland in the Division I state final at the Oakland Coliseum.
The victory was sweeter than cotton candy since Morningside lost to third-ranked Fremont by one point in last year’s state final. By winning, Morningside solidified its No. 1 state ranking and No. 2 national rating.
It also ended an agonizing season for the Monarchs because, despite their success, last year’s nightmare loss to Fremont was engraved in their minds.
“We felt hurt last year,” said 6-foot-5 junior center Lisa Leslie, who missed the six-foot jumper at the buzzer that could have earned Morningside the title last year. “We knew we had the better team and we still lost. That hurt.”
That was Morningside’s first appearance in the state final and the Monarchs blew a chance at the crown by blowing an eight-point lead with four minutes left. The result was a 52-53 loss, a 33-2 record and tears--lots of tears--from a disappointed Morningside bench.
“This just makes the season bittersweet,” Scott said after the losing game. “Everyone thought we’d walk away with it, and I did too. But we let them come back.”
Even Fremont Coach Lola Smith was surprised at Morningside’s performance last year. She thought the Monarchs would overpower her team.
“We read in the paper that they were third in the nation and that they had this 6-foot-5 girl,” Smith said after her team’s victory, “so we were petrified. We were scared to death. Everyone talked about how great they were. And you know what? They really aren’t.”
Well things have changed, including Smith’s opinion of the Monarchs.
This time tears came from Fremont’s locker room because Morningside held on to the lead and brought home the championship trophy. The Monarchs (33-1), whose only loss was to Southern High of Louisville, Ky., certainly changed Smith’s tune.
“What can I say?” Smith said as she hugged a sobbing Fremont player. “They just out-hustled us up and down the court. They have a very strong team and they proved it tonight.”
Leslie was extremely effective. The Parade All-American redeemed herself with a game-high 21 points. She also had 14 rebounds and four blocked shots.
“It wouldn’t have felt this good,” Leslie said as she wiped sweat from her forehead, “if it wasn’t Fremont. We’ve been waiting for this game all year .”
Scott, who has led the Monarchs to seven Ocean League titles and three CIF Southern Section crowns, was typically calm and mellow after Saturday’s game. He wasn’t surprised to see his team win.
“We should have won it last year,” he said. “They’re just sorry it’s (the season) over. This is a very young and hungry team that doesn’t really fall under pressure because it doesn’t really know about pressure.”
Witherspoon was her usual aggressive self on the court despite the large, rowdy crowd and the title on the line.
“We had one goal all year,” Witherspoon said, “and that was to come up here and win state. We knew we were going to do it. We just knew it.”