From Underdogs to District Champs
- Citra, FL.
By Curtis Michaud:
The tears and smiles of finally reaching the mountain top after a hard-fought battle of a season has the new Class 4A-District 4 champs looking to continue this trend.
Dunnellon guard Tatiana Matthews and her teammates celebrated immediately once the final buzzer sounded on Friday night at North Marion High School. As they have all season, the Tigers continued their dominance, defeating Keystone Heights, 58-46.
Although, the game itself was thrilling, the journey was just as special. Matthews led the charge screaming “champs on three!” as the team gathered for a team photo with their shiny new toy, their first district title since 2016.
Head coach Chris Thompson said being district champs is just the first and big step for the program to reach its' potential.
“We are creating a dynasty,” Thompson continued. “Dunnellon has been known for football. But now, I want to bring girls basketball back to Dunnellon--and we got a young team.”
Now, DHS is 24-3--the highest single season win total since the 1980’s. Behind the play of their backcourt, Matthews and fellow guard Kmari Williams, the Tigers were able to achieve such a feat.
Matthews finished with 25 points and five rebounds while Williams ended the contest 23 points and six assists. But it wasn’t all peaches and cream for the Tigers, as they dealt with being underdogs heading into year.
“It's amazing! We started the season and all the coaches in Marion County had us seeded sixth,” Matthews said. “I told our girls before and preseason that we are not a No. 6 team, so that was our motivation all the way through.”
Being the only girls’ team present, Matthews and Williams said it was tough, but it did indeed helped them immensely in achieving their goals.
“The amount of blood sweat and tears that done went into this is crazy,” Matthews said. “The trophy is a representation of all the hard work we had to put in. We cried and argued together, and all of it paid off.”
Thompson added he wanted to boost the team’s confidence heading into the year.
“I said if you can put up 20-to-25 points on high school varsity boys, girls are going to be nothing.”
Also, Thompson wanted to tweak the dynamic of the team, being less Matthews
and Williams focused. Thompson said one of the biggest aspects of this year's team is the improved players around their two dynamic scorers.
He mentioned juniors Jada Hayes and Paige Powell as the most improved players since the summer.
“I couldn't have been more proud, and that was our mission," Thompson said. "Because last year, it was all 'give it to T and Kmari'. Give it to them and let them do whatever. But now, we have other people that can dribble. We've been practicing getting other people involved."
Being two years removed from an 8-16 record, and just like that, the Thompson strategy was a success.
Looking ahead, DHS will move on towards the Class 4A Regional Quarterfinals to play Andrew Jackson (Jacksonville, Fla.) on Thursday, Feb.10 at 7pm.