Lady Vikings ready to claim Louisiana state championship

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 8, 2001

VIDALIA, La. – It has been said that familiarity breeds contempt. At Vidalia High School, familiarity just may earn a state title.

The Lady Vikings’ five senior starters – Tiyree Riley, Wendy Paul, Sharonda Anderson, Brendy Ellis and Natalie McGraw – have played together since sixth grade.

&uot;We know what to expect from each other,&uot; McGraw said. &uot;We give each other freedom on the court so we can do what we need to do.&uot;

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The Vidalia faithful know what to expect from the seniors as well. In the eighth grade, the quintet went a perfect 18-0. Last year, the Lady Vikings finished 26-5 overall and District 3-2A champions.

This year? &uot;We’re going to go all the way,&uot; Riley said.

Longtime Vidalia coach Lillian Johnson has a more modest immediate goal. &uot;I’d like to come out of district 8-0,&uot; she said. &uot;That would be like them going 18-0 in junior high, I think.&uot;

Vidalia has never won a state title in girls basketball. The closest Johnson has come was in 1986, when her team made the Sweet 16 in the state tournament.

&uot;On the average, this is overall a better group of seniors,&uot; Johnson said of her 2001 squad. &uot;Academically, they really shine. They know basketball. But a tremendous help is that they know each other.&uot;

&uot;We’ve played together since sixth grade, and we’ve been friends for that long,&uot; Paul said. &uot;It’s helped us as a team because we always have each other’s back on the court. We’re used to playing together and helping each other out.&uot;

But Johnson said this team’s greatest attribute is not its familiarity but its attitude.

&uot;This is a hard-working group of kids,&uot; she said. &uot;They’re not tall, but they’re scrappy. They never give up, no matter how tough it gets. They know how to win.&uot;

That has so far been proven by the team’s 19-4 record and tournament wins at Ferriday, Sicily Island and Block this year. But the Lady Vikings’ game plan for winning is the same as it was five years ago.

&uot;We didn’t start out trying to go undefeated,&uot; McGraw said. &uot;It just happened. Our goal is to have fun and win a championship, both at the same time.&uot;

And what worked before should work again.

&uot;We’re the same,&uot; Anderson said. &uot;We’re a little more mature now than then, but we haven’t changed.&uot;

The only thing that has changed is opposing teams’ attitudes, Paul said. &uot;Everybody’s goal is to beat Vidalia. We’re the team to beat.&uot;

Being in that position puts added pressure on a team with already high expectations, but adds something else, as well, Ellis said.