First-time state championships are the common denominator among the top award winners on the Ledger-Enquirer’s 2019 All-Bi-City Girls Basketball Team.
After the Carver High School Tigers won the Georgia High School Association Class AAAA championship for their program’s first state title, with a 56-44 victory over Spalding, junior Olivia Cochran is the Player of the Year and Anson Hundley is the Co-Coach of the Year.
Hundley shares the accolade with Marion County High School coach Fran McPherson, whose Eagles won their program’s first state title with a 50-38 victory over Calhoun County in the GHSA Class A public school championship game.
Carver point guard Ja’Nya Love-Hill left the championship game with a knee injury in the third quarter. Cochran told her, “We’re going to get the ring.”
Cochran was a big reason why they did.
The 6-foot-2 center scored 15 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the state final. Coming into the game, she averaged 27 points, 16 rebounds and 8 blocks per game this season, making her one of the nation’s elite recruits in the Class of 2020.
Cochran already has approximately a dozen college scholarship offers, including some from SEC and ACC schools, she said, but she declined to name them or disclose her favorites.
“I’m still trying to figure out what I’m going to do,” she said.
Winning the program’s first state championship, Cochran said, “makes me proud of me and my teammates that we could accomplish this for Carver.”
And she predicted they will do it again next season.
“I think we’re going to do it back-to-back,” she said. “It’s going to be my senior year. I’m going for nothing but another ring.”
Hundley called Cochran “a great kid, a hard worker. A lot of times, when you’re that talented, people feel you don’t work as hard or don’t have to. But she definitely has worked herself into the player that she is. She has worked for everything she’s got. I’m very proud of her.”
Hundley also is impressed by Cochran’s composure.
“She doesn’t get rattled very easily,” he said. “She’s always well prepared. She just goes with the game plan.”
Hundley, a special-education math teacher, has been Carver’s head coach for nine years, taking the Tigers to the Class AAAA girls Final Four the past three seasons.
“A lot of coaches never get a chance to do that,” he said. “It’s just amazing how those girls handled themselves.”
As the wins mounted and the undefeated season (32-0) neared the promise of a state title, the Tigers kept their cool, Hundley noted.
“There were down periods when the girls weren’t doing things the way you want them to,” he said, “but there never was a time when we weren’t really getting after it.”
Cochran credits Hundley for motivating the Tigers to achieve their potential.
“He’s like a pressing coach,” she said. “He helped me get my body in shape. I like his intensity about the game. He always wants us to jump on other teams.”
Cochran also appreciates Hundley for clearly communicating.
“He’s an honest coach,” she said. “He’s going to speak how he feels. He pushes you real hard because he wants you to be the best. … He challenges you.”
The toughest challenge an opponent gave Carver this season was Dec. 22, when the Tigers edged Bishop O’Connell of Arlington, Va., 48-46 win at the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
“We weren’t playing that good, but Coach said we can play through this,” she recalled. “We weren’t shooting well. We were having defensive breakdowns. We were getting down on ourselves, and he just kept pushing us. We had to step up. We wanted to go undefeated, so we just kept that on our minds and just played.”
With six of the 10 players in this season’s rotation returning next season, including Cochran, Hundley expects the Tigers to continue their excellence.
“We want to be looked at as a program and not just a good team,” he said. “We want to be be talked about year in and year out as one of the top teams.”
Marion County senior Ansley Whitley, an All-Bi-City first-teamer, recalled the first time McPherson spoke to the Eagles, when Whitley was a freshman. Their new coach saw their talent and potential and declared, “Y’all can win state.”
Whitley recalled thinking that McPherson was “crazy.” But looking back on that forecast, Whitley said, “The way she sees things in us is incredible. It took four years, but it ended up the way she said it would.”
Whitley appreciates McPherson’s straight talk.
“She gets on you but for your own good,” Whitley said. “… Most coaches don’t have the guts to tell you.”
But she doesn’t cross the line, Whitley said.
“She’s never mean — ever,” Whitley said. “… She never makes it personal.”
Whitley laughed while describing the way McPherson corrects the Eagles.
“It’s like a motherly yell,” Whitley said. “She wants everyone to succeed. There’s a bar or standard for everybody . . . You can be 0-for-20, but she’ll only yell if you didn’t hustle, not because of missing shots.”
McPherson credits her daughter, Madison, for helping the Eagles see the possibility for excellence. Madison transferred as a junior from Southland Academy when McPherson got the Marion County job after coaching at Lee County and Crisp County.
Madison now plays softball for the University of Georgia, but she played one season for her mom at Marion County and showed the Eagles how to meet McPherson’s standards.
“She was the cog,” McPherson said.
Two years ago, McPherson earned a Coach of the Year honor for guiding Marion County to the state quarterfinals. After losing 73-52 in the state championship game to Greenville last year, McPherson said, the Eagles were committed to playing better, despite losing three of their top players to graduation.
“The minute they walked off that floor, they just took that loss to heart and they knew they could do it,” McPherson said. “… They would listen to the game plan, and they executed it. They just wanted it.”
Their lone loss this season (29-1) was in the region championship game to their nemesis, Greenville. In hindsight, McPherson thinks that loss might have helped them win the state title.
“Maybe it just reiterated to us that you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, make your passes and your shots count,” she said. “Every possession is important. Maybe we needed that lesson before the state tournament.”
All of which allowed McPherson to cherish her team’s state championship celebration.
“Watching them jumping up and down and hugging each other and crying and holding the trophy and watching them reach their goal,” she said, “that made me happy.”
LEDGER-ENQUIRER 2019 ALL-BI-CITY GIRLS BASKETBALL TEAM
The L-E thanks Muscogee County School District athletics director Jeff Battles for coordinating the selection process. Coaches at each high school in the Columbus area were invited to nominate students and coaches. The selections were made by a vote of the coaches and input from the L-E.
Player of the Year: Carver junior Olivia Cochran.
Co-Coaches of the Year: Anson Hundley of Carver and Fran McPherson of Marion County.
First team: Hardaway senior Genesis Adams, Harris County senior Taziaha Fanning, Carver senior Ja’Nya Love-Hill, Shaw junior Bre’Lyn Snipes and Marion County senior Ansley Whitley.
Second team: Carver sophomore Kionna Gaines, Columbus sophomore Enyshuan Jones, Hardaway junior Deyanna McKinney, Carver senior Jailyn Shaw and Marion County junior Jameshia Williams.
Honorable mention: Brookstone sophomore Marianna Branch, Harris County senior Ny’Azjha Carter, Hardaway sophomore JiMia Cobb, Chattahoochee County junior Deja Delaine, Spencer sophomore Mariah Gates, Columbus junior Caroline Hollingsworth, Central junior Eryn Johnson, Jordan sophomore Makaila Jones, Kendrick senior Itavia Montgomery, Kendrick senior Ivana Rockemore, Northside freshman Erica Rodriguez, Kendrick freshman Mersadies Sistrunk, Shaw senior Laneja Warner and Marion County senior Ashley Whitley.
Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE.