Bishop keeps eyes on big prize
The Bishop McGuinness girls were subdued in celebrating their regional championship Sunday, following exhausting wins in consecutive days. They were much more upbeat Wednesday about playing for their ninth straight state championship.
The Villains, looking to tie for third nationally for the most state titles in a row, return to the state finals once again to face Williamston Riverside in the NCHSAA 1A state championship on Saturday at noon in the University of North Carolina’s Dean Smith Center.
“I’m very, very excited. Very grateful. I’m really, really happy,” said senior forward Julia Brown, the regional MVP, with a big smile. “It’s extremely amazing to be a part of this whole thing. This being the ninth time, it started way back when, before I was here or knew about this program.
“So, to be able to say that I was a part of this, to say that I was a leader on this team, it’s an indescribable feeling of pride yet also of humility, because that’s what our program’s about. And it’s just so ecstatic.”
Bishop, despite returning every key contributor from last season, has had its challenges throughout this season. The biggest was losing one of those key contributors, point guard Olivia DeFrancesco, to a season-ending ACL injury just three games into the season.
At that moment, everything was in the air – losing your starting point guard is never easy. So, coach Brian Robinson made one big change, moving Cameron Nieters from the post to the point, to minimize other changes. Still, all the Villains had to step up and play their parts well.
“We really didn’t know what was going to happen,” junior guard Tessa Johnston said. “I didn’t know if Tia (Cappuccio) or I was going to have to take over. But he moved Cameron there, and she’s done a great job all season. And we’ve all done little things to our games to help the team.
“It says a lot about the dedication of individuals to the team as a whole,” she said. “It shows how much we care and how passionate we are, and how much we care about each other. We’re like sisters with how much time we spend together. So, we all had to come together.”
Bishop, with DeFrancesco continuing to lead from the sideline, embraced its increased roles, prepared well in practice and competed hard all season. After winning its first regular-season conference title since 2008-09, it won its seventh conference tournament title in nine years.
After sizable victories against Voyager Academy and North Stanly to open the state playoffs, the Villains faced close games against Atkins in the third round and Winston-Salem Prep in the regional semifinals. But they remained focused and composed and made the big plays to win.
“When some teams get down, they get this look of their face like they’re giving up,” said Cappuccio, a sophomore guard who made the winning baskets in both games. “One thing we don’t do, even if it’s the last seconds of the game and we’re losing, is give up. We keep shooting, and we keep striving and striving. Even if we lose, we know we’ve given it all we’ve got.”
The last few years, the Villains have had close calls – including down 11 points with six minutes left in last year’s state title game against River Mill before rallying – and they have found ways to win. Drawing on those experiences are a big part of why they’ve been successful, Robinson said.
“A lot of it is just trust,” he said. “That if you do it the right way, then it will work. This group is definitely one that’s lived on the edge more than any other set of girls. The last three years, we’ve had some playoff games where one play decided it – but they made the play on either end. So, not a lot scares them. And I’m very fortunate to have a program that’s developed that mindset.”