RALEIGH, N.C. – It’s not that Tamia Davis is annoyed by the question or even the least bit bothered; she’s simply shaking her head and smirking because, well, she was clear that said question was coming.
What’s it like carrying the proverbial monkey on your backs entering your third-straight state title game and the program’s fifth in the last six years?
The Southeast Raleigh (N.C.) High School point guard pauses and shakes her head before saying, “Everyone asks that; I mean it’s fair because we haven’t won one yet, but we’re just focusing on the things we can control. It’s been a long few years.”
No one knows better than Southeast Raleigh head coach Nicole Meyers, who joked that she’s used every approach from inspirational to passive to aggressive when it comes to state title pregame speeches over the years.
“I’ve covered every possible angle,” Meyers said with a laugh. “Right now the message is simple: Just go play.”
A simple call to action that has paid off in a major way for Southeast of late.
The Bulldogs haven’t lost in more than two months and are thumping opponents by an average of 36.4 points per game over that span. They’ll face West Forsyth High School (Winston Salem, N.C.) for the 4A state title Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
“We want to play the game right now,” Bulldogs forward Anya Poole said. “I don’t want to wait. I know that we’re ready. We know what it’s like to play in a game like this so we’re not nervous at all. We want to finish this time; we’re not worried about anything else.”
The tunnel-vision approach was evident after the Bulldogs’ 58-51 win over Cary (N.C.) High School in the state semifinals last week.
Sure, they were excited to advance to the finals, but the Bulldogs were far from being overcome with emotion.
“Were they as happy as other teams would be in that position?” Meyers said. “No. They’re not satisfied and they’re not dwelling on the past.”
To make sure of that, Southeast assistant coach Melissa Rice printed pictures that captured the emotions of the players after last year’s loss in the state title game – crying, sulking, jerseys pulled up to hide their faces – then passed them out to each player.
After the team talked about the emotions they felt following the loss, Rice brought a trash can to the middle of the locker room and instructed the players to rip-up the pictures and throw them away.
“This was a fresh and new chance at winning a state title,” Meyers said. “They got the message.”
Still, motivational lessons and visuals aside, the obvious question is: What’s different this year?
The answer is as simple as it is perplexing; the Bulldogs have more losses.
“In the past couple of years we’ve had some undefeated seasons leading up to the state championship games and still lost,” Meyers said. “We realized that we needed to step it up and play better competition early so when we get to later in the season that level of competition wouldn’t be foreign to us. December was brutal.”
After entering the season ranked No. 3 overall in the USA Today Super 25, the Bulldogs (25-5) lost to national powers like Riverdale Baptist School (Upper Marlboro, Md.) and Bishop McNamara High School (Forestville, Md.) as well as in-state powerhouse Westridge Academy (Kernersville, N.C.).
“It was rough, but we grew so much as a team after those games,” Bulldogs guard Nevaeh Haddock said. “We’re more prepared than we’ve ever been. We know the feeling of losing more this year, and we don’t want to feel that again. We can’t feel that again.”
Which begs a rehash of the initial question: What is it like carrying the proverbial monkey on your backs entering your third-straight state title game and the program’s fifth in the last six years?
“It just feels like it’s time to get it off,” Haddock said. “That’s it.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY