When the Bishop England girls basketball team steps on the Colonial Life Arena floor in Columbia on Saturday afternoon in the Class AA state championship game with Andrew Jackson, they will carry with them the experience and knowledge of playing in their third straight championship contest.
It will be a chance for the four seniors, led by Michele Boykin and Mary Harriet Moore, to erase the painful memory of a season ago when they lost in the finals. The goal is to recapture the glory of 2012, when the Bishops went 28-0 and won it all. More importantly, it's a chance to go out a winner.
"We're excited about our chances," Moore said. "We know what it's like to win one and to lose one, so we want to go out with a win in our senior year. It would be special, that's for sure."
Success has been a fixture since Boykin, Moore, Eran Artigues and Camden Taylor all joined the varsity ranks. Bishop England is 97-10 over the past four years and will be looking to add a second championship to its trophy case.
"They're a unique senior class but they're a part of the bigger picture," coach Paul Runey said. "The girls they've played with that have graduated have helped be a part of that record. This group has worked real hard in the weight room and three of the four haves played together since their freshman year. Michele and Mary Harriet obviously have reaped the most awards but as a group they've meshed real well together and had some success."
Boykin will play in the Carolinas All-Star Classic pitting the top seniors from South Carolina against their counterparts from North Carolina. Moore has been selected to participate in the North-South All-Star contest.
But even having such eye-opening individual accolades, the eye-opening moment for this team came during the Carolina Invitational Tournament they played the week after Christmas. They went 2-1 against teams from North Carolina and Georgia and believed after that tournament they could make it back to this point.
They've steamrolled nearly every opponent since then. The closest game they've played was the 15-point victory over previously undefeated Dillon in last Saturday's Lower State championship game.
"The Carolina Invitational gave us a lot of confidence," Boykin, the team's leading scorer, said. "We played three teams from out of state and we thought we might go 0-3, but we went 2-1. That was a positive experience for us."
Runey has been able to get valuable minutes for everyone as the season has progressed. That was a huge bonus given the fact there are six sophomores and three freshmen on the 16-member team. Being able to spread out the minutes has brought a closeness to the team that could pay off on Saturday.
"Just before the playoffs began, we had a players meeting where Mary Harriet and I talked to the team and said the toughest opponent we would face would be ourselves," Boykin said. "In practice, we needed to play like we were the best and give each other the best competition that we can. Our main goal as seniors was to make sure there wasn't any diversity on the team. We wanted to make sure we acted like a family and nobody was left out and that has been a key."
All that's left for these seniors to accomplish is to win a second state title. They will have to slow down Andrew Jackson senior Dareisha Sowell, who scored 40 points in the Upper State title game last week.
"They're fundamentally solid and move the ball real well and don't make a lot of careless mistakes," Runey said. "Sowell is playing extremely well in the playoffs so we'll have our hands full. Hopefully our experience of being on this stage will be an advantage for us."