On the way to its second consecutive District 19-6A championship, Tompkins’ girls basketball team has relied on its defense.
In winning its second consecutive District 19-6A girls basketball championship, Tompkins has relied on defense.
The Falcons are allowing a stingy 33.5 points per game in district play, five times holding opponents to 30 or fewer points. Even when the defense is not at its strongest, such as during a 66-47 win over Seven Lakes on Jan. 22 that secured the outright district title, Tompkins makes enough plays on that end to produce easy baskets on offense.
The Falcons (16-3, 11-0 19-6A) had difficulty containing Spartans freshman post Justice Carlton (18 points, 11 rebounds)—everyone in the district has—but forced 19 turnovers and held Seven Lakes (13-4, 8-2) to just 3-of-11 shooting from 3-point range.
“(Seven Lakes) Coach (Angela) Spurlock is a tactician and magician when it comes to coaching,” said Tompkins coach Tamatha Ray, who spent 10 seasons as an assistant under Spurlock. “She doesn’t go from the first game to the second game without something different … that game plan, we couldn’t stop them on defense. We play chess when we coach against Seven Lakes. It’s just great to be here.”
“Here” is on top of the district once again.
The Falcons have won 26 consecutive district games dating back to the 2018-19 season. This season, they’ve sustained success with four returners from last year’s team—seniors Crystal Smith and Mackenzie Durnford, and sophomores Loghan Johnson and Fiyin Adeleye—and added toughness inside in senior Ashley Ngene, and athleticism and length on the perimeter in sophomore Macy Spencer.
“The feeling is the same, but the journey is much different,” said Johnson, who torched the Spartans for 31 points and six rebounds. “Because we didn’t have much time to prepare for district play, games (in the first round) were closer. Second round, we started to come around more as a team and we saw what we could really do.”
Johnson was a matchup nightmare for Seven Lakes. She showed off her outside shot (3-of-5 3-point shooting), made all six of her free throws, and posted up for easy baskets in the second half to stunt the Spartans’ furious rallies.
Johnson said she made a concerted effort to find the right positions on the court. Once she found the right spots, she knew she could score.
“When we first started, she tried doing move-move-move, and it doesn’t work because teams are better team defenders in high school ball,” Ray said of Johnson. “It took 8-10 games before she knew she could make one move, but making two or three against a good defense isn’t going to happen. She has had to back off of what her mind is telling her to do and take what the defense gives her.”
The Falcons got 13 points and five assists from Smith, nine points and seven rebounds from Durnford, seven points from Spencer and six points from Ngene for their third-highest point total of the district season.
But defense was the catalyst. The Falcons jumped out to a 14-4 lead early in the first quarter to set the tone. The Spartans ultimately found their groove in the second half, scoring 27 points in the final two quarters, but by then it was too late.
“This year, everyone is really bought in that our defense is going to work our offense,” Durnford said. “We know we have each other’s backs if things break down, and there’s a lot more trust. Everyone really helps each other.”
Durnford described the Falcons’ defense as “fast, athletic, composed.” Nothing fazes them. Smith, Johnson and Spencer are relentless in their ball pressure because of their length and speed. Durnford, Adeleye and Ngene man the backline and protect the basket with their size and strength.
Aside from physical ability, the team’s defensive I.Q. is also impressive. In the first quarter alone, the Falcons’ defense morphed from man to press to zone, and did so often the rest of the game.
“Everybody is on the same page at the same time,” Ray said. “It’s complete buy-in, whether we’re running man, zone. Our 1-2-2 high court press has been working a lot. To give up 47 (points), we’re fine with that. We’re still putting up what we need to offensively.”
Ray credited her kids’ “guts and grit.” Playing with a “0” in the loss column in district play is not easy. But the Falcons responded and accomplished what they set out to do this district season, which was win an outright championship. They have done so convincingly, winning by an average of 25 points per game.
A win next Friday at Mayde Creek will award Tompkins its second straight undefeated district title.
“It’s another year under their belts and playing together,” Ray said. “Kids are more comfortable with game-plans and they’re executing. They’ve matured. We’re all on the same page.”