The 2018 Cumberland County Holiday Classic that wrapped up at Fayetteville State’s Capel Arena just before Christmas will be remembered as an event of stark contrasts.
The boys’ championship was pretty much by the numbers, as top-seeded Westover avenged an early defeat to Terry Sanford, handing the second-seeded Bulldogs a 43-35 setback.
But the girls’ final resulted in possibly the most shocking outcome in Holiday Classic history. Seventy-First had to win a play-in round game to even make the main field of eight, then strung together three more wins over higher-seeded teams to take the title.
The finals may have provided the biggest surprise as the Falcons handed previously unbeaten No. 2 seed Terry Sanford its first defeat of the season, 48-29.
For Henry Cowan, head coach of the Falcons, there was no magical formula behind what happened. “As a team, we found our rhythm,’’ he said. “We started trusting each other. Our playercoach relationship really bonded. We were wanting to win instead of playing not to lose. We were wanting to make a statement.’’
Gloria Smith, who was named the girls’ tournament most valuable player, agreed with her coach. “We talked to each other and executed what we needed to do,’’ she said. “We just worked hard for it.’’
That may be an understatement as the Falcons won four games in four days, the final one on the longer court at Fayetteville State. Smith said the team talked about being tired but quickly dismissed it. “No matter how tired we are, we’ve got to keep pushing,’’ she said. “We got what we needed to get. We got that W.’’
Meanwhile, the top-seeded Westover boys turned the tables on a Bulldog team that handed them a smothering defeat just a week earlier.
“When we played them the first time we were unbeaten and had beaten some very good teams,’’ Westover coach George Stackhouse said. “You know how kids are. I think a lot of people were patting them on the back. When we went over to play them, I just think the kids played really relaxed and we got killed on the glass.’’
“We came out with a lot more intensity,’’ Thorne said. “We executed way better, and we were prepared for their 2-3 zone defense.’’
Thorne said the Wolverines were far more patient with the ball this time than they were in the first game. “That was the No. 1 thing coach stressed, and we came out and did it.’’
Both Seventy-First and Westover enjoyed a break but will return to conference action this week in their respective leagues.
Cowan said his Falcons hope to continue with the same intensity they had in the Holiday Classic and try to speed other teams up. “We like to play fast,’’ he said. “If we can get where we can trust our offense and defensive rotations and help the helper, I think we’re going to be okay.’’
Stackhouse has a similar plan for Westover. “We’ve got to make sure we’ve got everybody on the same page,’’ he said. “Stay focused. We’ve got the talent at some point to be a very, very good team.”
Here are the all-tournament teams for the Holiday Classic.
MVP - Jalin Thorne, Westover; Dontravious Byrd, Seventy-First; Calvin Washington, Jack Britt; Gabe Harbison, Terry Sanford; Yates Johnson, Terry Sanford; Tyron George, Westover.
MVP - Gloria Smith, Seventy-First; Jaelyn Autman, Gray’s Creek; Lillian Flantos, South View; Imani Elliott, Terry Sanford; Lindsay Bell, Terry Sanford; Daireanna McIntyre, Seventy-First.
Photos: Left- Gloria Smith; Right- Jalin Thorne