CHARLOTTE – The Providence Day girls basketball team put together one of the most remarkable runs in state history by winning seven consecutive NCISAA titles and 11 in a span of 12 seasons.
But that run, which was fueled by former N.C. Gatorade Player of the Year winners Erin Whalen, Jatarie White, Tiffany Mitchell and Janelle Bailey, had ended two years ago.
This year’s Providence Day team has one player – senior Morgan Kelson, who will attend Claflin College in Orangeburg, S.C. – who has formally signed to play college basketball. Even so, this may be the Chargers’ deepest team as they stepped on the court Feb. 22.
“We have the most depth in the state,” said senior Andi Levitz. “We can play 11 good players, and I don’t think anyone else can say that. And they all contribute on offense and defense and we need everyone to contribute.”
Seniors Kelson and Levitz, the Chargers’ two leading scorers all season long, played like their player of the year predecessors when it mattered most in the state title game win over Greensboro Day.
Greensboro Day, the 27-3, top-seeded team in the state, had already beaten Providence Day 56-49 in December.
Levitz nailed five 3-pointers in the first half alone and scored 15 of Providence Day’s first 29 points.
Kelson added nine first half points as the Chargers raced out to leads of 9-0, 14-2 and 21-8 before entering halftime 33-18.
“I couldn’t have dreamed of a better start to the game,” said Providence Day coach Josh Springer, the orchestrator of all of the team’s success. “We had a fantastic start, no doubt we threw the first punch.”
After freshman Lauren Jenson scored to give Providence Day a seemingly comfortable 41-25 lead, they had to feel very good. The Charger defense didn’t allow more than 10 points in a quarter in the semifinals and had done so just once in the first three frames to Greensboro Day.
But after Jenson’s third quarter bucket, the Bengals went on a 23-9 run to cut the lead to 45-42 with 1:52 to go.
“We just stayed calm and positive,” Levitz said. “Coach Springer looked at us and said, ‘It’s OK, we got this and we’re the ones still in control.’ It didn’t feel like that in the moment, but once we sat down and realized it, it was over.”
Freshman Jordyn Latter had a critical bucket late while freshman point guard Chandler Brooks iced the 48-44 win by hitting one free throw.
“When we lost in the semifinals last year it was the worst feeling ever and I still think about it,” Kelson said. “To play my last game winning the state championship is the best feeling ever.”
Springer gives a lot of credit to his six seniors, the largest senior class in 13 seasons at Providence Day.
This win was important to Springer, not just because it meant the Chargers were back on top, but how they did it.
“We’ve been blessed to win a few of these, but this an unbelievable, special feeling with not being the favorite, being the underdog,” he said. “If you line their kids up against our kids, they have a ton of mega athletes and a ton of size and speed and some fantastic college prospects, but our kids were just gritty, hard-nosed, we attacked the glass and we kept our composure despite some adversity in the second half.”
Kelson and Levitz finished with 15 points each to lead the way and helped set the tone for the Chargers’ return to glory.
“You have to go out with a bang playing your last high school basketball game. I’m so proud of all we accomplished,” Levitz said. “Coach Springer coaches us to our max every day and you don’t really see that unless you’re in our program. All of the hard work truly paid off tonight. We’ve been working every single day for this moment, and I’m so happy it’s here.”
Springer adds another title to his ever-growing trophy cabinet, but this win is going to stick with him for a while. He told his team following their loss in January that they’d be back in the state championship game and win it this time.
“I did say that. Greensboro Day was 27-3 going into today and has been destroying people all season long,” he said. “We weren’t better than them in December and we probably weren’t better than them in January, but we were fortunate to be better today.”