Miami Country Day wins State 4A Girls basketball championship
The goal was never for Miami Country Day to turn into South Florida’s premier girls’ basketball powerhouse. The goal wasn’t to set Florida records, top national rankings and fly to tournaments all across the United States. All Ochiel Swaby wanted to do when he took over as the Spartans coach in 2004 was win one state championship — something Miami Country Day had never done in any sport.
Now the Spartans have done something no one in Florida has ever done. With a 62-30 rout of Tampa Carrollwood Day in the Class 4A championship Thursday, Miami Country Day hoisted a state championship for the sixth straight season, breaking the Florida High School Athletic Association record for consecutive titles.
“Every year that we’ve won has just been another goal for us that we have reached,” said star point guard Maria Alvarez, who has been a part of all six championships. “Winning the sixth one my senior year, ending off here with this amazing group of people, it’s honestly just amazing to have that as another achievement under my name.”
Alvarez, who has already signed a National Letter of Intent with the South Florida Bulls, scored nine points and dished out five assists in her final game as a Spartan. She began playing for Miami Country Day in seventh grade and finished every season by lifting a championship trophy. It’s impossible to know for sure, but she’s almost certainly the most decorated player in Florida history.
Star wing Koi Love, who signed with the Vanderbilt Commodores, led the way for the Spartans (26-1) with her second straight double-double, notching 13 points and 12 rebounds. Freshman guard Emani Theodule added another 13 points as Miami Country Day pulled away from Carrrollwood Day (27-2) by halftime by holding the Patriots to 6 of 28 from the field in the first half.
Despite coming within 12 points of the Spartans in the 2018 championship, Carrollwood Day didn’t challenge Miami Country Day this year. The Spartans are the No. 1 team in both MaxPreps’ Xcellent 25 and ESPN’s power rankings, and they’ll head up to New York for GEICO Nationals in April. In the past five years, Miami Country Day has ascended to become a national program.
This isn’t anything Swaby could have ever imagined when he took over the Spartans. A former standout for North Miami and the Central Florida Knights, Swaby returned to Central Florida to get his degree in 2001 after a professional career, then returned home to North Miami looking for work. His sister worked at Miami Country Day, so Swaby worked as a substitute teacher for a year before the school hired him as a physical education teacher and girls’ basketball coach. He quickly found out the Spartans had never won a state title in any sport. He had his first goal.
“A light bulb went off in my mind, like, Whoa. That would be pretty cool to be the first person to ever win a state championship,” Swaby said. “Really, all the motivation came from wanting to win that one state title.”
He built the program around year-round commitment until a bit of luck struck in 2012. Danielle Minott, now a guard for the Eastern Michigan Eagles, and Channise Lewis, now a guard for the Maryland Terrapins, both transferred in and immediately could carry Miami Country Day to its first state-championship appearance. The next year, Minott was a senior and Lewis was a freshman, and they guided the Spartans to the first title in 2014.
“At that point, I never knew the extremity of all this,” Alvarez said. “All my teammates were all devastated about that, and the hustle to get to states and all that was so important to them, I was like, Oh, I’ve got to play good for them.”
Suddenly, Miami Country Day became a destination and Swaby had to start thinking bigger. Orlando Dr. Phillips was the gold standard in Florida, winning Nationals in 2011 and 2013. The Spartans wanted to become the next Dr. Phillips.
Miami Country Day first dipped into national waters the next season, playing in the Naples Holiday Shootout and eventually winning Nationals for the first time. A season later, the Spartans added trips to Washington for the She Got Game Classic and Phoenix for the Nike Tournament of Champions. Miami Country Day prepared for the playoffs this year by again playing in the Naples and Washington tournaments.
All this can make it easy sometimes to forgot the state-level accomplishments. The Spartans now trail only Dillard for state titles by a South Florida team and how own a record previously held by Jacksonville Ribault, the most decorated program in Florida.
“Maybe we don’t do a good enough job of it as coaches. We haven’t really talked about it. I kind of feel bad to a certain extent that we don’t really talk about it,” Swaby said. “We haven’t really given it its due diligence up until now, but now that we’ve accomplished it, I think it’s worthy of being celebrated.”