Beating one of the toughest teams in the district on its floor is a joy. Beating that team a second time on its floor to win a tournament is even sweeter.
The University Academy of Cenla girls basketball team accomplished just that Saturday when it defeated Claiborne Academy, 43-35, in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class A South State Finals.
As a result, the Lady Lions have earned a first-round bye for the 2015 MAIS girls basketball Class A tournament at Rebul Academy at Learned, Mississippi.
“It’s very big,” UA coach Craig Whittington said. “My kids — especially the holdovers from Cenla (Christian) — talked about facing Claiborne. The kids who came at the start of the year knew nothing about Claiborne, as the rivalry wasn’t established yet. When we were 16-1 and Claiborne beat us at home, that immediately established a rivalry.”
After that Jan. 8 showdown, it only took 20 days for the Lady Lions to exact revenge when they beat Claiborne, 37-29, in Haynesville to set up the highly anticipated game last weekend.
In a tooth-and-nail battle, UA was able to claim the regional tournament title as forwards Allie Davis, Jada Swafford and ReJayla Williams were named to the All-Tournament team. Swafford was named tournament Most Valuable Player.
“I told the kids that we had to keep our composure, handle adversity and play our game,” Whittington said. “We made some adjustments from the first time that we beat them. They are one of the better teams I’ve coached against and that was one of the more exciting games I’ve coached in 25 years.”
Now, the Lady Lions are hoping to finish in at least in the top three in the Class A tournament so they can participate in the overall tournament.
“It’s a big confidence boost for us that we beat (Claiborne) twice on their floor,” Whittington said. “Coming off of a big tournament win, we hopefully will build on that and that it will carry on to next week. It also gets us through the first round with a bye.”
The MAIS girls basketball Class A tournament will last from Feb.16-21 and the top three teams will play in the MAIS Overall Basketball Tournament Feb. 23-28 at Mississippi College in Clinton, Mississippi.