MIDDLE VILLAGE N.Y. – It was a battle of size vs. speed. And speed won – in a big way – as Miami Country Day (Miami, Fla.) raced out to an early 18 point lead and never looked back, defeating Hamilton Heights Christian (Chattanooga, Tenn.) 81-55 in the girls final of the DICK’S Sporting Goods High School Nationals on Saturday.
This one was over relatively early. Miami Country Day scored nine straight points to open the contest, and kept the pressure on to lead 22-8 at the end of the first quarter. Hamilton Heights settled into the contest a bit in the second to stay at least somewhat in range – as Miami County Day took a 42-24 lead to the locker room.
But the Spartans put it away early in the third with an 11-0 run to open the period – highlighted by three straight 3-pointers from sophomore guard Maria Alvarez.
Coach Ochiel Swaby said the blowout victory was the product of natural ability, effort, and determination.
“The skill set has always been there,” Swaby said. “It’s just – what kind of fight are you going to have certain days? Today, we brought the fight – and the skills and the talent showed up as well.”The formula was pretty simple. Miami Country Day used their quickness to break the Hamilton Heights defense down. And when the defense converged on the ball, the Spartans kicked it out to the perimeter – where they got plenty of open looks.
And when they got those open looks, the Spartans took full advantage. Alvarez was just unconscious from beyond the arc – going 8-for-11 from downtown as part of her 26 point game overall. The performance earned her tournament MVP honors.
The 5-7 Alvarez said she thought of a key piece of advice she received from her coach as she competed against a significantly bigger Hamilton Heights squad.
“Don’t let the taller people scare you,” Alvarez said, jokingly.
Kelsey Marshall was equally superb for Miami Country Day, adding 23 points. She did most of her damage in the 12-to-15 foot range near the free throw line – which, according to Marshall, was by design.
“Coach told me they were going to leave the middle wide open,” Marshall said. “So last night and this morning, I’ve been shooting mid-range shots. When I saw that my threes weren’t falling, I just decided to stay inside. And that’s where I got the majority of my points.”
For the Spartans, it was their second DICK’S Nationals title in three years. Swaby – who has led Miami Country Day to four consecutive state championships – recognized the level that his program has reached by adding another prestigious tournament win to their ledger.
“Only a select few teams get these chances to have this type of success,” Swaby said. “There’s a lot of hard work involved.”
Hamilton Heights – ranked no. 8 in the Super 25 – just couldn’t exploit their size advantage in the same way the Spartans utilized their quickness. Aasiya Berry more than held her own for Miami Country Day – playing terrific post defense and pulling down 13 rebounds to prevent the Hawks from getting the second chance points they needed to stay in range. She contributed on the offensive end too, scoring 15.
Any team is going to be difficult to beat when they shoot as well as the Spartans did. But Hawks coach Keisha Hunt also thought her team’s inexperience was a factor – as they were not able to maintain their poise when Miami Country Day got off to the fast start.
“They’re a great team,” Hunt said. “They’ve been through it before. They’ve gotten the experience on playing under the limelight. It’s our first time.”
Amber Hunt led the way for Hamilton Heights in defeat with 14, while Jazmine Massengill had 11.