Last March, the Burke High boys basketball team captured the Class A state championship trophy. This season, the Burke girls are looking to add some hardware of their own to the school’s trophy case.
Burke has never won a state title in girls basketball, but this year’s team could be on its way. Under coach Wayne Alston, Burke is ranked fifth in the latest Class A statewide poll and enters the state playoffs on a nine-game win streak. The Bulldogs are 17-4 overall and won the Region 6-A championship with a 12-0 mark.
“We lost in the first round of the playoffs last year but our team followed the boys team all through the playoffs and was there when they won it all,” said Alston, who also serves as the school’s athletic director. “I think it was after watching what the boys did, this group decided they wanted to experience that for themselves. They worked all summer and they have worked really hard this season. They are ready for their chance.”
Alston admits he felt Burke’s best chance to make a run at a championship would be next year. He currently starts only one senior — Keisha Gamble — and the majority of the production comes from underclassmen.
Junior guard Karimah Jenkins is the team’s leading scorer, averaging 15.1 points per game. Freshman Shadea Kelly, already a third-year starter, is scoring 9.3 points per game. Eighth-grader Raven Gamble and sophomore Rel’Tasia Robinson also contribute as starters.
“I felt we were probably a year or two away but we have turned the corner a year earlier than I expected,” Alston said. “Now, after the season we’ve had, I have to think we have as good a chance as any team out there. We probably will run into more experienced teams, but we have played a good schedule and we’re prepared. We’re playing pretty well so I think we have a shot.”
Burke’s strength is on defense; the Bulldogs are allowing only 33 points per game.
“Our goal is to hold every opponent under 30 points,” Alston said. “We feel like we can win when we do that. We work hard on defense. We pressure the opponent and it’s a style that seems to suit our girls. It’s been a big reason for our success.”
Burke won only seven games last season and Alston knew things had to change if the program was going to be successful. The coach stressed a “family atmosphere” within the team and that approach helped the team form a much stronger bond.
“We do team family meals, we do team bonding groups once a week, and other team outings like college basketball games,” Alston said. “This team is much closer now and that has really helped. They play for each other now. It’s an unselfish group that has really developed a strong desire to win.”