January 29, 2013

Am-Po's only senior perfect in county tourney

The Express-Star

MINCO —  No player on the Amber-Pocasset High School girls basketball team knows what it feels like to lose in the Grady County Basketball Tournament.

Dontasia McAfee will never have to find out.

The No. 15 Lady Panthers (17-3) won their eighth-straight Grady County Tournament on Saturday, beating host-school Minco 43-33 in the tournament final, capping off McAfee's final county tournament with another win.

McAfee has played in three Grady County Tournaments and has won all three, most by significant margins.

The senior led her team with 12 points in the championship game, and the Lady Panthers extended the streak that began before they got to high school for another year.

"It did feel more important, because all the teams that came before us carried it on," McAfee said. "So it means that much more to us, too."

A win streak brings glory, but it also brings pressure. With each win, there comes another team hungry to dethrone the long-time champion.

McAfee acknowledged that the team felt some pressure to win number eight.

"They come in not having anything to lose," McAfee said of Am-Po's opponents in the tournament. "We have to defend our title."

During her first Grady County Tournament experience her sophomore year, McAfee played a small role while the Panthers won their sixth-consecutive tournament.

"I was a sophomore, so I probably didn't get a lot of time," McAfee recalled. "But I learned a lot from those other girls."

It's no surprise that McAfee's favorite memory of the Grady County Tournament is the celebration that the Panthers have each year after winning.

For the last few years, the team has used beverages to symbolize their streak.

Last year, it was 7-Up. This year, a few parents handed out V8 drinks to each of the players for eight in a row.

"I think we planned that last year," McAfee said of the drinks.

No other team has won eight-straight Grady County Tournament championships. Amber-Pocasset's girls program holds the second-longest streak in tournament history with five in a row from 1976-1980.

The last time a girls team besides the Panthers won the tournament was 2005, when Rush Springs won the title for the second year in a row.

The Lady Panthers lost a lot of talent from last year's team. Grady County All-Conference selections Michelle Olsen, Jamie Olsen and Eden Douglas graduated along with conference MVP Jordan Garner.

Faith Mays, a junior, was Amber-Pocasset's other All-Conference player last season, but McAfee is the only senior.

Head coach Kirk Reimers said McAfee's leadership this year has been essential to the team's success during his first year at Am-Po.

"To be honest with you, she's what you would call the heart and soul of the ball club," Reimers said. "They look to her and she takes care of them. She makes other people better. We're just thankful to have her, because we're not the success we are without her."

A team with only one senior is generally thought to not be losing much in the next year, but that's not the case with Am-Po and McAfee, according to her coach.

The Lady Panthers have two regular season games and a playoff run left with McAfee, and Reimers said he will enjoy it.

"I honestly feel losing her, we're going to have to have about three girls step up to make up for what we're going to lose in her," Reimers said. "I'm thankful I got here this year. Coaching her, if you don't get to coach her, you're missing a blessing. She's way up there."