MARIETTA — Owner of four straight state championships, McEachern’s girls basketball team knew winning a fifth would not be easy.
After rolling through the regular season with 17 victories and entering the Region 3AAAAAAA tournament as the No. 1 seed, the task of capturing that fifth straight state title proved even more difficult when three starters — Chanel Wilson, Daelyn Craig and Kemia Ward — all suffered season-ending injuries at different points of the season.
Although the Lady Indians were left without three key players, they still managed to win the region tournament and advance to the state semifinals for the fifth straight season.
For overcoming adversity and leading McEachern to its deep postseason run, Phyllis Arthur is the 2017-18 Marietta Daily Journal/Cobb County Girls Basketball Coach of the Year.
“I wasn’t expecting to be coach of the year,” Arthur said. “I appreciate that (the other coaches) feel I’m deserving of the honor.”
McEachern had high hopes of winning its fifth straight championship and sixth overall when the season started, and the Lady Indians maintained that enthusiasm throughout the year.
Adversity, though, arose with the injuries.
While the setbacks helped keep the Lady Indians from the championship game, it did not stop them from overcoming a double-digit second-half deficit in the quarterfinals at Norcross, which McEachern won in overtime.
“Once we had those injuries, our hopes didn’t go away. We just knew it would be a harder challenge to get far (in the playoffs),” Arthur said. “We were pleased to win the elite eight at Norcross without them, but we knew, the further we went, it would be even tougher to win. That’s a lot of talent that was gone for the season.”
With freshman guards Sianny Sanchez and Denim DeShields in a retooled starting lineup, McEachern’s season ended with a 22-6 record after the team lost to Newton in the semifinals. The Lady Indians fell victim to the same outcome they gave to Norcross, after Newton came back from a double-digit deficit in the second half to win.
“I think (Newton) turned it up a notch and then some of our key players got in foul trouble,” Arthur said. “I don’t want to say the lights were too bright for our young players, but this was a stage they had not been on before.
“It was just turning point for them and our new players, and we just could never settle down. If we could have done that, then I think we could have been okay. We just couldn’t get there.”
Arthur acknowledged that overcoming the losses of Ward, Wilson and Craig was the biggest challenge of the season. McEachern still had the likes of Jewel Smalls, Jasmine Carson, Victoria Agyin, Alyssa Smith, Kyla Carpenter, O’Mariyah Tucker and Daimaya McPherson, along with Sanchez, DeShields and others, but it wasn’t enough.
“That hurdle was just too high for us to get over,” Arthur said. “That was the biggest challenge, losing those three players. We thought we had enough firepower on our bench, but to lose those three dwindled our bench down to very little.”
Winning another region title and beating Norcross in the playoffs ranked high on Arthur’s list of highlights for the season.
“To come back from being down 15 to 17 points to beat Norcross the way that we did was definitely a highlight,” she said. “We were down after losing those girls, but winning that game was big for us.
“And just the girls growing closer like they did is always big for me. Our camaraderie and our sisterhood is always nice to see.”
Considering what McEachern went through late in the season, Arthur is fond of what the Lady Indians accomplished.
“We’re never pleased and never satisfied, but to get as far as we did with what we lost I think we’re OK with that,” Arthur said. “I’m just pleasantly surprised and happy and proud of them and the whole team for what they did this season.”