For years, it has been the same refrain for Mount Airy’s girls’ basketball team.
The Lady Bears have been one of the state’s strongest 1A programs for many years. Former head coach Howard Mayo built a powerhouse program during his decade-plus at the helm, before stepping down last year to move back closer to his home at Galax High School. Mayo, who had several teams that might have won state titles in the era before powerhouse open-enrollment teams started polluting the 1A ranks, passed the torch to his top assistant, former Lady Bear star Angela Mayfield.
Mayfield had to feel like the proverbial teenager who’s been handed the keys to Dad’s Porsche.
After waiting three weeks to start the season because of the school’s football success (during which time the Lady Bears scrimmaged with Mayo’s new team), the new coach made her debut with a 71-11 evisceration of Walkertown on Dec. 13.
Victory after crushing victory followed. There was a hiccup two days before the New Year, when Mount Airy lost to rival North Surry, but the Lady Bears had already beaten them twice. Thirteen times this season, Mount Airy clobbered its opponent so badly that the “mercy rule” was invoked and a running clock put into place. They lost one more time, by four points on Northwest 1A Conference rival Atkins’ Senior Night, but then beat the Camels for the conference tournament title and routed them in the state playoffs.
Non-traditional schools with open enrollment still dot the 1A landscape, but it hasn’t mattered this year. When the Lady Bears completed their 49-38 victory over Avery County in the West Regional final last Saturday at Wake Forest University, they became the first team representing a traditional school to win the 1A West title since Thomasville did it in 2005. Two current conference rivals of Mount Airy’s, Bishop McGuinness and Winston-Salem Prep, have won the region every year since — until now.
It is the first-ever appearance for the Lady Bears (29-2) in a state championship game.
“We’re as excited as we can be,” said Mayfield, who played on the only other two Mount Airy teams to reach a regional final, in 1987 and 1988. “I don’t think anyone envisioned this before the season started, but I’ve known a lot of these girls since they were seven or eight years old, and it’s nice to see them accomplish this.
“They’ve made my life easy this season. You don’t have to stay on them to work hard. They take care of business in the gym, and it speaks for itself on the court.”
The Lady Bears will try to make even more school history on Saturday, when they go for their 30th win of the season, and first state championship, against Pamlico County (29-3) at noon in the Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill.
As was the case with 2A girls finalist North Surry, the media panel at NCPreps.com didn’t afford much respect to either team coming into the state playoffs. In the final poll before the playoffs, the Lady Bears rated fifth and the Lady Hurricanes were ninth. Pamlico proved that assessment was flawed, checking off Whiteville (57-45), Camden (62-28), East Columbus (85-42), No. 1-ranked Plymouth (66-59) and Roxboro Community (59-47) to reach the state championship game.
The Lady Hurricanes go fairly deep into their roster. Six different players average five or more points a game, with only one in double figures, that being 5’0’ sophomore Jainaya Jones (12.1 points, 4.6 assists and 4.5 steals per game). Zyaja Mattocks, a 5’8” senior, is second on the team with 9.3 ppg, and leads Pamlico with 7.6 rebounds per contest. Fellow senior Leetasia Midgette, at 5’7”, averages 9.1 points and six steals. Junior Hydia Davis mans the post at 6’0” and averages 7.9 points and 6.7 rebounds per contest, and never fouled out of a game all season.
The power ratings at MaxPreps like both teams much more than the media panel did. The Lady Bears have ascended from third to first since the playoffs began, while Pamlico has advanced from seventh to fifth. They enter the game with the two best overall records in the 1A ranks, as well.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.