Crowning achievement: West Forsyth Girls’ Basketball team caps magical season with NCHSAA 4-A state championship
Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 21, 2019
By Marc Pruitt
For the Clemmons Courier
The final seconds were ticking away last Saturday at Reynolds Coliseum in the NCHSAA 4-A girl’s state championship game, only leading to the anticipation of an impending celebration for the West Forsyth girls’ basketball team.
West had the game in hand with a 47-36 lead against Southeast Raleigh and the ball near its bench at mid-court in the hands of Callie Scheier, the smallest player on the court who had another monster performance.
Scheier sent a lollipop pass to senior and fellow captain Brooke Schaffer along the right sideline, who in turn passed to Shakira Baskerville near the free throw line. Baskerville turned and found Destiny Griffin in the opposite corner near half court and delivered the final pass of the game.
The West Forsyth bench was already standing up and ready to rush the court in celebration.
Griffin got the ball with 8.3 seconds left and casually extended her right arm to hand the ball to the official before the final horn sounded and was then swarmed by her teammates.
Scheier, who had crept closer to Griffin in the final moments, was the first one to reach her. Schaffer was next, followed by Baskerville, and then the rest of the team seemingly arrived at once as the on-court celebration commenced.
Coach Brittany Cox enjoyed the moment near the Titans’ bench, huddling with assistant coaches Lindsay Brendle, Kristal Lollis, and Johnny Hill.
The celebration in the stands from the Titans’ faithful fans was also lively. It’s exactly what you’d expect for the team’s first state title in school history.
Winning the state championship capped an improbable journey and a 27-3 final record, including 17 straight wins to finish the season, including dispatching two-time defending champion Northwest Guilford in the regional semifinals.
“I still feel like I’m dreaming,” said Griffin, who was named as the game’s Most Outstanding Player after scoring 13 points. “I never knew we could get that far. It’s really mind-blowing.”
Scheier, who was named the Kay Yow Most Valuable Player after pouring in 29 points, including 21 off 3-pointers, relished in the journey of her four-year career.
“We all played with a chip on a shoulder,” said Scheier, a 5-foot point guard who has signed to play at High Point. “It felt so amazing because I don’t think anyone expected us to be there.”
Cox, who won four state titles as a player at Bishop McGuinness — including two at Reynolds Coliseum — won her first as a coach.
“Let me just say that it feels even better to do it as a coach, especially with this group of players,” Cox said. “The sense of pride they have in what we do and in each other, there’s really no better feeling. We didn’t really know what to expect this season because we lost some great players after last year. And you look at this team on the floor and they just don’t look very intimidating at all. But once that ball goes up and the game starts, they give it everything they have. They were fighters all season. They faced adversity at different points but chose not to give in to that. It made them ever stronger.”
Even when things weren’t going the Titans’ way during the season, they figured a way out of it.
West lost two straight games in early January while Scheier was out with mono, including the Central Piedmont 4-A Conference opener at home against East Forsyth, which dropped its record to 10-3.
“We had a heart-to-heart in the locker room after that game and really talked about everyone getting locked in,” Cox said. “And I think that changed our whole season.”
The Titans didn’t drop another game after that meeting.
“We got a lot out in that meeting,” Griffin said. “I think we all left that meeting understanding that if we didn’t change some things, our season might not end up so good.”
“Having Callie miss those games might have been the best thing to happen to us in the long run,” Schaffer said. “We really had to refocus and learn to buy in all over again and understand our roles and I think that was a big reason why we were so successful. It put it all in perspective for us.”
“I think everyone’s mindset changed after that loss to East,” Scheier said. “And I felt bad that I wasn’t able to help on the floor because I was sick. But I think we could all sense the change and we got back on track after that. It wasn’t really a matter of getting back on the same page as it was understanding that we all played a part in our success and we needed to get back to that.”
As was the tradition established earlier in the season after a big win, the team was treated to milkshakes from Cook Out last Saturday.
“We’re waiting on the bench when Southeast Raleigh is getting their medals, and Destiny asks me if we can get milkshakes,” Cox said with a laugh. “We asked our bus driver if he could stop so we could do that, and he was actually the same person who drove our softball team home after they won the state championship in 2016. And he said, ‘I know just the place’, and we pulled into the same Cook Out in Greensboro that the girls softball team stopped at.”
The Titans also got a hero’s welcome back at school that actually began much sooner.
Forsyth County Sheriffs deputies escorted the team bus once it crossed the county line, and maybe in a nod to her playing days, happened on the exit off Interstate 40 in Kernersville where Bishop McGuinness — Cox’s alma mater — sits about half a mile down the road on Highway 66.
“I think the girls all thought it was cool that we could ride right through intersections once we got to Clemmons,” Cox said. “And seeing the reception we got once we got back to the school was awesome.”
Plenty of fans had gathered in the parking lot near Simpson Gymnasium, along with cheerleaders and the Clemmons fire department, which dispatched trucks that shot water cannons to form an arch that the bus drove under.
“We’ve gotten such great support all season,” Cox said. “And I feel like we might have had more people in Raleigh at the game than Southeast Raleigh had, even though it was in their back yard, so to speak. Our fans were loud, and it was greatly appreciated. And to see so many of them when we got back — lots of teachers, administrators — the support we have gotten all season has just been tremendous.”
Cox pulled off a few surprises for the team leading up to the championship game, including a Friday night practice in Raleigh at Meredith College, where former West star player and coach LaQuanda Quick is now the coach.
“It was so awesome to have her open the gym up for us Friday night and spend some time with us to let us practice,” Cox said. “She was still the coach for Callie, Destiny and Brooke the summer before they came as freshman, before I even took the job, and she trained a few of the girls too. I wanted her to be a part of it somehow because of everything she did for West Forsyth basketball as a player and a coach.”
Cox also took the team to Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke University for a shootaround on Saturday morning, once again tipping her hat to her past.
“We would practice at Cameron the night before all our state championship games,” Cox said. “And I still have the practice plan my coach made up that night for my last one. I showed the girls one of my state championship rings that night, which I never get out of the box, and let them know that they were already champions to me because of the great relationships they have formed. That’s what it’s all about for me.”
“It’s the relationships and friendships we have all built that will last beyond this game and this year,” Schaffer said. “We are all so close off the court. That’s what I’ll remember the most about this team. We’ll always have this special memory of being state champions, and we’ll always have each other.”
Griffin, who won a state championship in February in the shot put at the 4-A indoor track meet and has signed with East Carolina for track, realized that this was the last time she would play basketball with her teammates.
“I’m going to miss playing with this team,” Griffin said. “Basketball has been a big part of my life since I was 8 and will always be a part of my life in some way. This win meant a lot. This team means a lot. We left it all out there.”
Scheier echoed her teammates sentiments.
“It sunk in that this was the last time I’d be playing with my teammates,” Scheier said. “Destiny, Brooke, and I — we’ve been together for four years. The relationships with my coaches and teammates is what made winning (Saturday) even more special. I was just in awe of the moment. I was hugging Destiny and saying ‘is this real life? I can’t believe we just did this. Are we dreaming?”
Not a chance, state champions. Not a chance.