Red Raiders come together to reach state final

Mar. 13, 2014 @ 09:20 PM

All around the school, the T.W. Andrews girls see reminders of their hard work. The gym bleachers, the baseball field, the greenway – they all hold vivid memories of what has spurred them to where they are now: in the state championship game.

Following two strong games in the regionals last week, they will play in the program’s first-ever state title game Saturday at noon in N.C. State’s Reynolds Coliseum against traditional power Bandys in the NCHSAA 2A state championship.

“After the game Saturday, I remember walking into the locker room and someone saying, ‘All those sacrifices seem like nothing right now,’” said senior guard Imani Watkins, the regional MVP. “They really do. This is what we’ve worked so hard for. This is everything.”

Over the last four years under coach John Shearin, the Red Raiders have grown into one of the area’s top programs. Shearin grew up in a basketball family, with his sister and father having played collegiately, and became a student of a game at an early age.

Shearin began coaching at Andrews as the JV coach for a year and then spent three years as varsity assistant under Weaver Walden. When he became head coach, Shearin built on Walden’s family ideals and added his increased commitment to hard work.

“This isn’t just this year. This started four years ago,” Shearin said, “and we’ve just pushed each other to give 110 percent. We figure if we work as hard as we possibly can, then nothing but good things can happen. This year, we just happen to be reaping the benefits.”

Two years ago, the Red Raiders reached the third round of the state playoffs before losing on the road against Jordan-Matthews. That lifted the expectations high for last year. But a strong year ended prematurely at home against East Davidson in the second round.

In the aftermath of that loss, Andrews, with its high-pressure defense and uptempo offense, was more determined, more motivated than ever to achieve its goal of winning a state championship. The work began almost immediately to prepare for this season.

“We had higher goals, so it was heartbreaking,” senior guard Shamisha Farabee said. “We didn’t expect to lose that early in the season. We never wanted to feel like that again. So, we had to do what we had to do to get to where we are today.”

But the Red Raiders, who added transfer Brie Grier, didn’t begin the season the way they wanted. They lost their first game, then their third game and then their sixth game. They were 7-5 after losing to Dudley in early January, and they needed to make a change.

So, they sat down as a team and decided to shift their focus to winning their next game and not on winning a state title. Their play improved greatly upon breaking their season into manageable chunks, and they swept their conference and went into the playoffs confident.

“The physical aspect was there,” Watkins said. “But the love for the game and the love for each other wasn’t. Once we got out of ‘self,’ everything turned around for the better.”

Following big wins against First Flight and Clinton to begin the playoffs, Andrews rolled past No. 2 Jacksonville Northside on the road. Then, after edging reigning state champion Kinston, it crushed No. 1 Reidsville in the regional final to reach their first-ever state championship game.

“It’s just hard work, dedication and love for the game,” senior guard October Campbell said. “Without those three things, we wouldn’t have made it this far.”