LAKELAND -- Dillard’s seniors cried, laughed and hugged on the bench.
Kayla Wright hid her face under her jersey.
She let her emotions out as she reflected on four of the most memorable years of her life.
A little while later when the final buzzer sounded, Wright didn’t hold back her joy. And neither did Dillard’s girls’ basketball team after beating St. Petersburg Lakewood 57-41 on Saturday morning to secure its fourth consecutive state championship.
“Four-peat,” Wright shouted while hoisting the Class 5A state championship trophy high above her head. “All we do is win, win, win.”
Win state titles is all the Panthers did during Wright’s career as Dillard (28-2) became only the second Broward County school to accomplish the feat joining South Broward.
Dillard won its eighth state title overall — a Broward record — and are only one short of Jacksonville Ribault’s state-record nine. Ribault is the only school with a longer state title streak in state history, winning five from 1999 to 2003. Dillard’s girls also matched its school’s boys’ team, which also won four state titles in a row (2000 to 2003).
“It’s a very special moment because we hadn’t done it before,” Wright said. “It means even more to the ones who were here since freshman year.”
On Saturday, Wright finished with 15 points, six rebounds and four steals and helped Dillard impose its will in the paint where the Panthers collected 38 of their points. They also outrebounded Lakewood 36-29.
Senior Eva Myers, who came up short of winning a state title as a junior last year at Parkway Academy, finished with a game-high 19 points and nine rebounds and was voted the Class 5A final four’s Most Valuable Player.
Dillard trailed briefly by four points midway through the first quarter before taking the lead for good just before the quarter ended. The Panthers signature pressure defense forced 19 turnovers.
Dillard coach Marcia Pinder, who has the record for most coaching victories in state history and has been the Panthers coach for all eight championships, also achieved another milestone tying former Ribault coach Alfred Austin for most state titles.
“I was watching the bench players excited to go in at the end,” Pinder said. “But when I turned around and saw the seniors crying on the bench, I almost broke down myself.”
Wright, a Tulsa University signee, and Ja’Coreyah Clayton became the fourth and fifth players in Broward to ever play varsity on four state championship teams joining former UM standout Lamese James, Lashaunda Slade and Keunta Miles, who were all part of South Broward’s four consecutive titles from 2000 to 2003. Wright, Clayton and Alliyah Anderson are among Dillard’s six seniors graduating this year.
Wright became a starter late in her freshman season and made a prediction shortly after helping Dillard win the state title that season.
“That year, Candace Parsons got hurt and I had to step up,” Wright said. “I told coach we’re going to get four of these.”
Added Pinder: “Sometimes you hear players run their mouths saying, ‘Yeah, we’ll be back,’ but for a freshman to make that kind of statement and then prove it over four years. She’s special.”
Pinder has won 832 games in 36 years as Dillard’s coach. but one of her proudest accomplishments is the team’s family atmosphere that has kept the winning tradition alive for generations.
Wright celebrated Saturday’s victory with her mother, Wanda, who played for Pinder from 1984 to 1987 before playing in college at Lane University in Jackson, Tennessee. Wright’s father, Louis, is an assistant coach on the Dillard boys’ team.
“I knew firsthand playing for Ms. Pinder, she would be on Kayla and get the best out of her both in basketball and academically,” Wanda Wright said. “I wanted those same things for my daughter because in the long run those are the things that will take her far, and [Pinder] deserves a lot of credit for doing that for so many [at Dillard].”
LAK (24-7): Swinton 4, Alvarado 15, Allen 5, Ungro 8, Frazer 9. DIL (28-2): Wright 15, Clayton 7, Myers 19, Parson 5, Wilks 1, Green 4, Adams 4, Frazier 2. Half: DIL 31-22. Three-pointers: Alvarado 3, Ungro 2, Myers. Rebounds: Allen 13. Assists: Myers, Ungro 4. Steals: Wright, Parson, Frazier 4.