Miami Country Day made it look seemingly effortless once again Thursday night at The Lakeland Center.
No matter the stakes, the Spartans never lose faith in their abilities.
The culmination of that trust once again propelled Miami Country Day into the history books.
“We always expect to win,” Miami Country Day coach Ochiel Swaby said. “It’s always up to us as coaches to put a game plan together for whoever we’re facing, but we believe in our talent, we believe in our kids and we believe in the work we put in.
“I think we left no doubt who the best team in the state is.”
With all five of its starters scoring in double figures, Miami Country Day took apart another overmatched opponent as it routed Jacksonville University Christian 76-46 in the Class 3A girls’ basketball state championship game at The Lakeland Center.
The Spartans (26-6) became the first Miami-Dade County team to win three consecutive state championships in the sport.
Country Day trails only Dillard and South Broward (each of which have won four in a row) in terms of consecutive championship streaks by South Florida teams. Jacksonville Ribault owns the state record with five in a row.
Miami Country Day, which won the Dick’s Sporting Goods National tournament, last year as well, also tied Miami High and Miami Monsignor Pace for the most state titles in county history.
Swaby, who owns who still owns a prestigious Dade County milestone with the county’s boys’ single-game scoring average record, tied with Miami High’s Baumgarten’s and former Monsignor Pace coach Clyde Glover for the most state titles for a Dade coach.
“Knowing from where this program came from [in basketball] which was nothing pretty much and getting a three-peat and first in Dade to do it is just amazing,” said Country Day guard Channise Lewis, who finished with 11 points, six rebounds and six assists.
And barring any major changes, expect the Spartans to be back for more next season.
Miami Country Day graduates forward Marsha Edwards (12 points and nine rebounds Thursday) and guards Samantha Provenzano and Lindsey Pierre, but returns four of its five starters including star juniors Kelsey Marshall and Channise Lewis, each of whom are being recruited by several Division-I colleges.
Marshall finished with a game-high 20 points and seven rebounds, and she and freshman sharp-shooter Maria Alvarez set the tone quickly scoring a combined five points in the first 26 seconds of the game. The Spartans stormed out to a 9-1 lead before University Christian (28-4) could catch its breath.
Country Day never trailed and although it never got ahead by enough to force the running clock as it had throughout its other six playoff games this season, the Spartans led by as many as many as 34 with 3:36 left in the fourth quarter.
The Spartans’ frontcourt of Edwards and junior Dashaun Jackson (11 points and eight rebounds) limited University Christian’s talented frontcourt with some solid defense in the paint.
University Christian senior JaTavia Tapley, a Southern California signee, finished with 13 points, but had only five points through the first three quarters. Senior 6-2 center Tarje Norman and 5-9 junior Jada Hudson each had 12 rebounds and combined for 26 points for University.
“We basically had to just limit their touches and box out for the rebounds,” Edwards said.
Jackson added: “Rebound, rebound, rebound is all we heard yesterday from our coaches.”
Alvarez hit 5 of 7 three-pointers, and embodies the potential for yet more future success for Country Day. The freshman guard already has three state championship rings.
“For me, this is the start of a new journey every year,” Alvarez said. “We have players graduate, but next year we’ll have new players trying to help us win it again.”
MCD (26-6): Edwards 12, Jackson 11, Alvarez 17, Lewis 11, Marshall 20, Provenzano 3, Pierre 2. UC (28-4): Tapley 13, Hudson 11, Tarje 15, G. Harkless 2, N. Harkless 5. Half: MCD 39-20. Three-pointers: Alvarez 5, Marshall 2, Hudson 2, Provenzano, Tapley. Rebounds: Hudson and Tarje 12. Assists: Lewis 6. Steals: Lewis, Hudson 3. Blocks: Jackson 2.
IF YOU GO
What: The state girls’ basketball finals.
When: Through Saturday.
Where: The Lakeland Center, 701 West Lime St., Lakeland.
Thursday’s schedule – Class 5A semifinals: Jacksonville Ribault 51, Fort Myers Dunbar 44; Orlando Bishop Moore 58, Lecanto 37; Class 3A final: Miami Country Day 76, Jacksonville University Christian 46; Class 4A final: Orlando Lake Highland Prep vs. Tampa Brooks-DeBartolo, inc.
Friday’s schedule – Class 7A semifinals: Bradenton Lakewood Ranch vs. Niceville, 10 a.m.; South Broward vs. Winter Haven, noon; Class 6A semifinals: Northeast vs. Orlando Edgewater, 4; Fort Myers vs. Fort Walton Beach Choctawhatchee, 8; Class 8A semifinals: Ferguson vs. Vero Beach, 2; Sanford Seminole vs. Boca Raton, 6.
Saturday’s schedule – Class 5A final: Ribault vs. Bishop Moore, 11:05 a.m.; Class 6A final: 1:35; Class 7A final: 4:05; Class 8A final: 7:05.