The New Manna Lady Wind are an incredibly youthful basketball team; seven of the 10 players on the roster are sophomores or younger, and two of them are still technically middle-schoolers.
Yet they’re all fully aware of the significance of what they’ve accomplished.
The Lady Wind brought home the school’s first state championship last Saturday, defeating Southview (Statesville) 49-47 in the finals of the NCCSA (North Carolina Christian Schools Association) 1A championship in Durham.
It was the first hoops state title in the 23-year history of the unassuming little school that sits behind New Manna Baptist Church on East Court Street. Monday morning, the entire student body and faculty greeted the team with a congratulatory parade that ended in a joyful mob scene at the front steps of the school.
Maci Clark, a two-time all-state selection and one of two seniors on the 18-3 club, offered some historical perspective.
“No one who has ever been to New Manna has been able to say, ‘I finished with a championship in basketball,’” Clark said.
That includes the team’s head coach, Curtis Styles, and assistant coach Josh Jarrett. The two were teammates nearly a quarter-century ago at the fledgling school. The Wind advanced to the state finals back then, but came away empty. Since then, New Manna’s boys have returned to the state championship game twice, but it was the Lady Wind that finally got over the hump.
Fittingly, Styles’ daughter Daylee and Jarrett’s daughter Allie both played key roles for the Lady Wind this season, and Daylee, an eighth-grader, made the game-winning layup as time expired in the thrilling title game (see related story).
“These girls deserve everything they’ve got,” said Styles, a second-year head coach. “They’ve worked hard and from Day 1, they’ve been bought in. The focus has always been the boys’ team, and then, well, we have a girls’ team, too. But we talked about making ours (season) special.
“It was such a team effort. There are no egos, and every single one of them contributed.”
Even then, it almost didn’t happen.
New Manna, the top seed at the eight-team state tournament, had beaten arch-rivals Tabernacle (Hickory) for the fourth time this season in the semifinals. But Jarrett, who Styles described as “our Theo Pinson,” referencing the versatile North Carolina Tar Heels senior, suffered a severe ankle injury late in the 51-46 win.
That meant others had to step up in the championship game, and that’s exactly what they did.
Post player Breigh Stewart came up huge for the Lady Wind, scoring a career-high 21 points, including a pair of clutch free throws to tie the game with just seconds left to play.
Seventh-grader Sunshyne Webb, helping make up for Jarrett’s absence, forced a turnover that led to Daylee Styles’ game-winning shot. And senior post Marissa Schwenk, playing more minutes in the title game than in any contest this season, helped junior Karsen Shirley shut down Southview’s potent inside game.
In the end, it all came down to Styles, alone under the basket. She said the final bucket was a moment that seemed frozen in time.
“It was all a blur,” said Styles, who averaged a team-best 16.5 points in two tourney games. “I shot it and it felt like forever because it hung on the rim. It just fell in, and I didn’t look at the scoreboard or anything. I just saw the ref say, it’s over, and I was like, no way. We just won.”
Shirley’s mind instantly flashed to the big picture.
“I’m thinking, ‘we just made history,’” she said.
Allie Jarrett, watching the game on crutches from the sideline, was overcome.
“We were all just sobbing,” said Jarrett.
The tears were ones of pure joy, however, thanks to the culmination of a dream that began long before the season started.
“We knew it was going to be a good year from the get-go,” said Daylee Styles. “It was like, we’ve actually got a shot at this, so we worked hard. It still feels like a dream. You get to wake up and think, we’re the first team that’s ever come through New Manna that got to cut down the net.”
Notes: In addition to the state championship, New Manna also won the tournament’s sportsmanship award, which is voted on by all the teams…The Lady Wind didn’t lose to another 1A team all year. Their losses came to Indiana Christian Academy (3A), Tabernacle Monroe (2A) and Tri-City of Conover (2A)…New Manna played for a girls’ state championship in 2013 as well, but finished runner-up…The Lady Wind captured the District 1 NCCSA championship and was the No. 1 seed at the state tournament, receiving a first-round bye…The school’s only other state title came in softball.