Younger Villains aim to build on tradition
In high school sports, eight years can seem like a lifetime. It’s long enough for whole classes of players to come in as wide-eyed freshmen, learn to achieve great things during their careers and graduate as accomplished seniors.
In the eight years since the Bishop McGuinness girls basketball team won its first NCHSAA 1A state championship, class after class has done exactly that — many of them going off to do even more as college basketball players and some even returning as coaches.
For many players on this year’s Villains team, which seeks its eighth straight state title Saturday at noon against River Mill in N.C. State’s Reynolds Coliseum, most of what they know has been that unprecedented winning tradition. And now they’re looking forward to adding to it.
“To think of all the other teams and how they’ve worked like we’ve worked,” says Tessa Johnston, a sophomore guard who attended Immaculate Heart of Mary in High Point, “it’s just astonishing to think that this has been going on for eight years now. That’s just insane.”
For these players, much of what they know about Bishop basketball began on March 11, 2006 in North Carolina’s Smith Center with the Villains’ first title. They were all still in elementary school at the time, and few had become serious about playing basketball yet.
Many of them, though, had ties to Bishop and its girls basketball program through the feeder schools and through friends and family, and as younger kids they looked up to the older kids and eventually wanted to follow in their footsteps when they got to high school.
“I used to go to games when I was really little, and I’d look at the girls out there and think, ‘They’re superstars,’” says Danielle Nieters, a freshman forward who attended St. Leo’s in Winston-Salem. “I was like, ‘I’m never going to do that.’ And it’s so weird feeling like I’m one of them now — I’m what they were.”
Their first experiences with the team were eye-openers. The level of play was much higher and the work required much more. As the season’s gone along, they’ve learned what it takes to be a championship team and gained an appreciation for the players before them.
“I remember after the first day of summer ball, I was shaking,” says Tia Cappuccio, a freshman guard who attended Our Lady of Grace in Greensboro. “You realize the big weight on your shoulders, and you have to carry it on and try to live up to what they’ve done.”
A lot of the program’s success is due to that sense of tradition passed down among the players, including former players Kat Lyons (now head coach at Westchester Country Day), Gina Simmons (now an assistant coach at Bishop) and Megan Buckland (now a player at North Carolina).
“These girls can relate to those girls,” says Bishop coach Brian Robinson, in his 11th season at the school. “They look like the ordinary kids walking around the hall like they do. They always ask: What did they do that made them so successful here? …
“And our alumni are great, especially this time of year, about coming through the gym and just checking on the girls. Sure, there are examples on the wall every day for them. But there are also breathing examples that come through the doors who these girls can say: If it worked for them, it can work for us.”
Now, with just one more game to play this weekend, this year’s players have the opportunity to add their names to the long, storied tradition within the girls basketball program. “The season’s gone by crazy-fast,” Cappuccio says. “It feels like it started yesterday,” Nieters follows.
“And now it’s like, ‘Oh, my God, we’re going to the state championship,” Johnston says. “It’s kind of mind-boggling, in a sense. But we’ve still got a game to play, so we’ve got to use it as motivation and finish this thing out.”