Untraditional on a wood court, first-year FAMU DRS coach Ericka Cromartie got an icy water bath from her players as soon as Thursday afternoon’s FHSAA Class 2A state title game ended.
But it was perhaps fitting in that the Rattlers also doused Grandview Prep with a heavy helping of ice-cold reality from tip-off at the Lakeland Civic Center until the final horn blew.
Making its fifth straight state tournament appearance, FAMU DRS put the word “dynasty” in everyone’s mouth by blowing out Grandview Prep, 75-45, to capture its third state title in four years.
“We are that and more,” Rattlers senior forward Raygene Garner said. “This team this year has to be one of the best since (2004 alum) Jessica Hall.”
In trademark fashion, the Rattlers (27-2) unleashed full-court and half-court pressure that the Pride (17-9) couldn’t match. FAMU DRS forced Grandview into 15 first-quarter turnovers, while hitting the boards hard to create a 14-5 rebounding edge.
“I know how my team plays and how we can wreak havoc if we just play defense,” Cromartie said. “If we just play defense first, then the offense will come. We came out today with that intensity and as the game went on it built and Grandview Prep couldn’t keep up with the pressure.”
Extra possessions meant plenty of shots available to be made. Rattlers senior shooting guard Ja’Nyia McNealy scored 10 points in the first quarter, getting the Rattlers started with a 3-pointer off a second-chance possession. The Rattlers led 20-9 after the first quarter and 37-24 at halftime behind McNealy’s 15 points and three 3s.
“Ja’Nyia played well, and when the game started, I knew it wasn’t going to be my game,” junior guard Jazmine Jones said. “I had to get my team going, get a couple assists, get Raygene going. And then Ja’Nyia just started hitting her shots.”
FAMU DRS scored 21 points off 22 Pride turnovers in the first half, and Grandview Prep only managed points in transition via rebounds. Pride guard Kristin Rampersad scored 11 points in the first half and knocked down three treys of her own while leaking out to find open space.
“We had to get back in transition and we had to find No. 4, because she wasn’t getting her 3s off set plays and half-court offense,” Cromartie said. “When we ran back in the second half, we went and found her in the corner. We made that adjustment.”
The Rattlers only continued to attack and force turnovers in the third quarter. Garner scored 10 of her 17 points in the period, and the senior forward finished with 12 rebounds as FAMU DRS added 10 more points to its lead, upping the margin to 58-35.
“When I first began, I was nervous and it showed,” Garner said. “I missed layups and wasn’t hustling like I should. But my team told me to calm down and keep playing. I got it together. I boxed out and rebounded. I knew if we didn’t rebound we wouldn’t win, so every time I saw the ball in the air, I went and got it.”
Jones, the Rattlers’ leading scorer, was even able to foul out with 5:11 left in the fourth quarter with her entire team on lockdown. Jones ended with 13 points, four rebounds, four steals, three blocks and three steals.
Every player on FAMU DRS’ roster scored and grabbed at least two rebounds, and the Rattlers limited Rampersad to just six points in the second half and the Pride to just two assists in the entire game.
“We have leaders, but we also have role players that step up too,” Cromartie said. “Everyone stepped up in their own way, in their own right. They all fed off each other in a positive way.”
FAMU DRS junior center Ambriel Scott scored six points and hauled in 10 rebounds, while McNealy filled her own stat line by picking seven steals, grabbing five rebounds and making four assists.
The contributions went on and on. Freshman point guard Lakrista Walker scored six points and dished out seven assists, while the Rattlers’ reserves scored 13 second-half points and combined for 14 rebounds.
With only Garner and McNealy departing through graduation, there’s a good chance FAMU DRS will just reload and find itself right back in Lakeland next year staring down also-young Grandview Prep for the fourth straight year.
“I’m going to be right there cheering them on as they bring back another state title,” said Garner.
“Raygene and Ja’Nyia leaving are real big shoes to fill and we will be missing those key parts,” Jones said. “But with the young talent, we should be OK. And we will definitely be back in Lakeland next year.”