Lady Senators take 6A title for second straight year
Special for the Record
Until Saturday, March 1, no one knew that Sparkman High School had a gymnastics team.
The early arrivals for the 6A boys championship game could have had this thought in their minds with the cartwheels and tumbling busting out all across the floor of the Birmingham/Jefferson Civic Center.
In reality, the Lady Senators had just defended their second consecutive 6A state championship title.
"We earned this one," Sparkman head coach June Seals said after winning her fourth state title, second with Sparkman.
Last year, Sparkman plowed through its regular season schedule en route to a perfect 35-0 undefeated mark. This year was much different. Not only did Sparkman lack size, but also its leadership was up for grabs. Throughout their season, the seniors stepped up to the challenge that called them.
"Last year, we lost our spokesperson, but we all stepped up. We were all excited just to be down there last year. This year, no one thought we could do it and we just wanted to prove that we could," said senior Morgan Chatman.
Senior Meme Moore, along with other seniors, took their rightful place as veterans after losses to 5A rivals Johnson and Butler during the regular season – the Senators only two blemishes in a 69 game span over a two-year period.
On Saturday, these seniors, along side future leader junior point guard Latoya Barclay, led the way for Sparkman, which despite an uncharacteristic 32.7 field goal percentage, still managed to down the 2001 champion Hoover Lady Bucs, which shot 50.0 percent from the floor. A nervous Moore, who nearly, single-handedly outscored a McGill-Toolen team from Mobile with 27 points in their semifinal match-up, in a much-anticipated battle with Tennessee signee Sidney Spencer scored nine points and grabbed four rebounds.
Senior Tiffany Benford was one of three Senator teammates to score in double figures with 10 points, going 3 of 4 from the free throw line, two of which coming with 40 seconds left to put the Senators ahead for good. The often-timid Benford's 32 minutes on the floor contributed extremely to the Senators success.
The third senior on the senator's roster, Chatman, shot 50 percent from the field with 10 points and grabbed seven offensive rebounds. Chatman's commitment to leadership is evident not only among her team, but also her class where she doubles as the senior class president.
Next year, Sparkman will lose five seniors to graduation. To get back to Birmingham once again, the Lady Senators will have to rely on every player that is left from the championship year and bestow their experiences on new players so they are stars just as their counterparts were the previous two years.
"There are no stars in that game. We needed every single one of those girls," Seals said.
With the road to Birmingham already mastered twice, the word dynasty can but be heard throughout the halls at Sparkman. With the loss of three crucial seniors, the Lady Senator's underclassmen will have to step up.
The hope for the future Barclay did just that in the title game. Her team high of 16 points led the way for Sparkman. This included four 3-pointers with one coming with Sparkman being four points down close to the end of the game. Her achievements were honored along with Moore and Chatman as they were named to the All-Tournament Team. Barclay also received the tournament Most Valuable Player honor.
"This year we worked harder. We didn't have any height – just speed. People said we weren't going to make it this year, so that just boosted us more," Barclay said.
The major difference in the game was turnovers. Sparkman's defense forced a total of 20 turnovers against a highly regarded Bucs offense, nine of which were committed by Hoover point guard Ardia Kelker. Hoover only forced eight.
"Offense doesn't ever win games. Defense always wins the game," Seals said. "We made them turn the ball over 20 times in that game. That's unheard of in the state finals."
Next year, Sparkman will try to make history by being only the third team in 6A girls state basketball history to win three consecutive championships in a row. Even if the Lady Senators cannot win another championship, they have already accomplished what was one thought impossible.
"We've done what people thought was impossible and won back-to-back state championships in 6A," Seals said. "We're not thinking about next year."