Wednesday, February 29, 2012

William Fleming girls used tough start as motivation

The Colonels lost three games to start the season, but on Saturday they'll make their first state girls basketball appearance since 2001.

William Fleming coach Champ Hubbard speaks to Shanta Morgan during a team practice Tuesday.

Rebecca Barnett | The Roanoke Times

William Fleming coach Champ Hubbard speaks to Shanta Morgan during a team practice Tuesday.

The William Fleming girls basketball team will face its 19th different team Saturday in the state quarterfinals.

Rebecca Barnett | The Roanoke Times

The William Fleming girls basketball team will face its 19th different team Saturday in the state quarterfinals.

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Of the 80 teams in the VHSL state basketball tournaments, it is safe to say that none of them began the season the way William Fleming did.

With two losses on the same night.

Fleming had to play a doubleheader against Oak Hill Academy and Williamsburg Christian in its December tipoff tournament so the Colonels could guarantee each team two games after another school pulled out of the event.

A 63-33 loss to Oak Hill and a 45-43 loss to Williamsburg Christian were followed six days later by an 81-48 drubbing at Potomac.

"We lost our first three games," Fleming coach Champ Hubbard said. "Easily they could have said the season's over."

Not yet.

Fleming (17-9) faces Eastern Region champion Woodside (27-1) in a Group AAA quarterfinal Saturday at William and Mary in Williamsburg.

It will be the Colonels' first state tournament appearance since the fall of 2001 when they reached the GroupAA semifinals at Salem Civic Center.

Woodside -- a Newport News school -- will be the 19th different team Fleming has played in 2011-12. The Colonels might have pulled a first for a Virginia public school, playing 12 straight nondistrict games to open the season against 12 different teams.

In addition to the tipoff tournament, Fleming played Potomac and Patriot during a two-night swing to Northern Virginia; met Magna Vista and Bassett in a Henry County event; faced R.E. Lee-Springfield, Salem and Herndon in a holiday tournament at home; and played single games against Pulaski County, Liberty Christian and Turner Ashby.

Fleming played a similar schedule in 2010-11 when the Colonels finished 12-10.

"We got a lot of criticism of, 'Why are y'all playing this team' for many years," Hubbard said. "At the end of the day, we're starting to see how it works out for us. It gives us an idea of being able to play on that level. Each year we're getting a little bit better."

Not that Hubbard is averse to playing local schools.

"I'm not trying to down any local school, but when you start winning, teams that would play you when you're down are more reluctant to play you," the Fleming coach said. "To me, they're giving me a compliment when they say, 'No.'

"But at the same time, we're not just going to let our girls just sit out here and not have a full schedule so I'll go find the most challenging teams we can play."

Fleming's schedule isn't the only thing this season that has gotten tougher. So has the Colonels' resolve.

Point guard Antavia Stevens, a team leader as a sophomore, said everyone on the 12-man roster is sold on the team concept after a shaky start in that department.

"At the beginning, it was all individuality," Stevens said. "It was hard for us to win as a team."

Junior guard KeKe Haynes, a three-year veteran, agreed.

"Certain players were acting as if they wanted to be just one instead of playing like a team," Haynes said.

The results were evident in Saturday's Northwest Region final at Potomac. Against the same team that drubbed Fleming by 33 points in December, the Colonels lost just 52-46.

"We could have beat them," Stevens said. "They underestimated us."

Hubbard, a 1991 Fleming graduate in his fourth year in charge of the program, said the groundwork for this year's success was laid in 2009-10 when a team led by Division I-bound seniors Salesse Stovall (Marshall) and Ti'Asia McGeorge (American) led the Colonels to the Western Valley District regular-season title.

"The real cornerstone was that 2010 team, doing it the right way, representing the educational aspect of being a student-athlete," Hubbard said.

McGeorge served as Stevens' role model.

"She had her head on straight," Stevens said. "She ran her team, regardless if she yelled at them or not. Even though they might not like her in practice, at the end of the day they were all sisters."

Hubbard began his high school coaching career as a JV girls coach at Herndon High School in Fairfax County. He then coached at Gar-Field under Andy Gray, a former Fleming assistant who was one of Hubbard's high school coaches.

When Hubbard moved back to Roanoke, his plan was to be a Fleming boys assistant under Mickey Hardy. Instead, in 2007-08 he found himself as a girls assistant under first-year coach and boyhood friend Troy Manns.

"I said, 'I'll help you out, but I'm not going to coach JV,'" Hubbard said. "It worked out.

"It was an opportunity to coach with one of your best friends. We decided to put a program together that was going to be successful."

Manns, a former star at Patrick Henry and Virginia Tech, left after going 22-23 in two seasons to become the boys head coach at Hanover High School near Richmond.

"I knew his desire was to eventually coach boys and lead his own program," Hubbard said. "I didn't know how soon that was going to happen. I thought he would be here for awhile.

"It was good that I got to be under him for those two years to see the different aspects that he possessed as opposed to just going by what I already knew. It was just an honor to actually have an opportunity to be a head coach. It was one of my dreams, so it's a dream come true."

Fleming hopes Saturday's trip is not a nightmare.

Woodside has been ranked high in The Associated Press Group AAA poll all year and Monday night the Wolverines crushed defending GroupAAA champ Princess Anne 54-34 with a suffocating second-half defensive effort.

Hubbard isn't taking his team to Williamsburg to sightsee or to concede a loss in a basketball game.

"We try not to back away from anybody," he said.

William Fleming has been synonymous with boys basketball success, dating back to Group II state titles in 1954 and 1955. The Colonels won the 2007 Group AA state title and have Group AAA runners-up four times, most recently in 2009.

"I told the girls, that fear that William Fleming used to possess, I knew as a boys coach that all eyes were on the boys," Hubbard said. "I want that same thing for my girls. We're striving for that."

And not just this season.

"We don't just want to be known as that team that just went somewhere one year," Hubbard said.

"We want to have a program that's known for, 'You better be looking out for William Fleming.'"

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