On paper at least, it seems like this season is mirroring each of the previous three for the nationally ranked Myers Park girls basketball team. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Sure, the Mustangs have dominated each of the past three regular seasons, going a combined 80-1, with the one loss coming this year to Tennessee’s Blackman High, the No. 1-ranked team in Maxpreps.com’s national poll.
While the regular season has been mostly a breeze, the problems for the Mustangs have rested in the postseason. It’s there that, before entering this season’s Class 4A state championships, they’ve fizzled out quickly – going just 3-2 in the playoffs and making premature exits each season.
But as they head to Raleigh’s Reynolds Coliseum for their first state championship final on Saturday, March 15 – where they will take on Southeast Raleigh (26-2) – there is a different feel to this team.
Take their regional championship game against rival Ardrey Kell last Friday, for instance. The Knights jumped all over the Mustangs early, taking an 11-2 lead in the first quarter, and appeared to be in control of a run that would seal a lesser team’s fate.
But Myers Park isn’t an ordinary team. Fueled by the memory of the past two seasons and their first regular-season loss since January 2011, the Mustangs gathered their collective breath and rallied.
They had big stops on defense, made clutch shots, crisp passes and before Ardrey Kell could regroup, it was the Knights who were seemingly out of it, down 24-11 after a deflating 22-0 Mustang run.
And in the middle of all of the game-changing action, much the same as she’s been for the past four years, was senior guard Saadia Timpton.
“(Against Ardrey Kell) there were two or three times where she sprinted back to knock the ball away or regain possession herself for us,” said second-year coach Barbara Nelson. “She’s been willing to do whatever we need her to. Her leadership has been terrific. She does it all – I mean she does everything we ask of her to make us successful.”
Nelson said early on in her career, and with talented post players including her sister, India (now a freshman at UNC-Greensboro), Timpton would see an opponent shoot and sprint out, beating defenses down the court for easy layups. In part, those easy buckets led her to average nearly 13 points per game her sophomore and junior seasons and allowed her to cross the 1,000-point plateau last year.
But the Mustangs of those days were flashy and brash. They wore Mohawks in their hair which they dyed pink or green. They sported brightly colored shoelaces. And they were flamboyant – maybe even cocky – as they carried an undeniable swagger on the court.
But two bittersweet seasons ending in sorrow has changed them and even impacted the steady and even-keeled Timpton, who has become a much more complete player on both ends of the court because of it.
“It was shocking,” she said of the playoff losses. “You want to have confidence and think that you’re the best team, but I think we underestimated our opponents. It brought us back down to earth and showed that we can’t just come out here and win, we have to work.”
And work they have.
Timpton said last year Nelson would schedule an occasional weekend practice, much to the chagrin of the Mustang players. This year, it’s become the welcomed norm.
“Last year we’d be cheering if we didn’t have one, but this year it’s gotten to the point now where if we don’t have practice we’d be like ‘Wait, why? We need the practice, we have to be in the gym,’” Timpton said.
“It’s been great to see my teammates grow – and it’s not just talent – but to see us come together and really grow together, this feels really good to see all of this hard work pay off, especially with one game left.”
And it’s especially pleasing to Timpton who, along with post Tamia Sistrunk, are the two players to see the Myers Park dominance come into full swing. Together, the pair is 107-12 in their high school career, with only one game hanging in the balance.
“My freshman year, I watched other teams do what I knew I wanted to do,” Timpton said. “I know what it feels like to lose by 40, 50 points and it hurt. I knew if I kept working we’d get there.
“We’ve been a winning team since I’ve been in high school, and these past three years we’ve been a really winning team. Wins, they mean a lot, but that’s what we’re used to now. Now we want to make history.”
And the Mustangs have that chance, both at the state tournament – the pinnacle of high school basketball – and at the place anyone to ever lace up shoes and step competitively on a basketball court would want to be – playing to give the seniors who have meant so much to the program the perfect sendoff in their final game.
Timpton knows it, and it’s showing in her play.
On the year, she’s averaged 10.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.6 steals and 2.1 assists – all numbers that would surely be higher playing on lesser teams.
But individual stats aren’t as important to her, especially considering Timpton has her college set, choosing to attend Davidson College on a basketball scholarship – another sign of her maturity off the court.
Timpton said at first she wanted to go to the biggest college where fans wore T-shirts of the school and basketball ruled the campus. But after hearing more and more from the Wildcat coaches and developing a relationship with the team and with Davidson coach Michele Savage, she knew it was her best option.
“I wanted to go to the biggest school I could at first, but I realized that I can’t play basketball forever and I’m smart, too,” Timpton said. “I wanted to go to an Ivy League school at first and Davidson is like an Ivy League school in the South. I developed a great relationship with coach Savage and it’s a bonus that they’re good in basketball. The academics attracted me to the school, but it’s the perfect fit for
While Timpton has her future fate sealed, she’s focused on the present.
That mentality is showing up in her play during the state tournament, where she’s done all she can – Timpton had 16 points, six rebounds and three steals in the regional championship, on top of her stellar defense and has averaged a steady 12 points per game during the finals – to make sure her team walks off a
“She doesn’t want this season to end,” Nelson said. “You can see it in her eyes – it’s not a fear, it’s a determination. You can see how bad she wants it in her
Timpton isn’t alone in her quest. The Mustangs feature two national college recruits in juniors Aliyah Mazyck and Rydeiah Rogers. Junior Morgan Uptegraff is a major contributor, as is sophomore Stuart Ayer and freshman McKenna Haire, among
Together, the Mustangs want the state championship and Timpton said it’s so close that she can practically touch it. All that’s left is one more win in a dominating career that would send Timpton and four other seniors off in
And they want it. For each other.
“It’s my last chance. I think it’s going to happen, I really do,” Timpton said. “But this is for all of us. If one person gets in trouble, we all get in trouble. If one person goes up, we all go up together. We’re always together and I think that helps. Coach will let us pull ourselves together and pull each other together and it’s an open forum where we help each other, so we’re together in
With a team full of players so ready to take the next step and do it as one, it would be a special sendoff for Timpton. And it would mean everything to
“It’s like the icing on the cake,” she said of the potential looming championship. “All of the other accolades that we have as a team are stepping stones. Yeah, it’s nice to say that we’re nationally ranked and that adds to it, but for me as a senior in my last game in high school, that would end the season right.
“It would be the perfect ending.”