Tuesday the NCHSAA held its annual state championship press conference at the DoubleTree Hotel in Research Triangle Park.
As usual, the association rolled out the red carpet for the 16 head coaches who will be playing for state titles this weekend.
Also as usual, a full breakfast was served and coaches were introduced to those in attendance. As the coaches approached the dias they were each presented with a basketball, honoring them for making it this far, one game away from winning it all.
The basketballs are nice; traditional orange leather on one side, white on the other with the NCHSAA logo. It’s something schools will proudly display in the trophy case at the front of their school for years. Southeast Raleigh head coach Nicole Meyers went to the dias and accepted her basketball like every other coach in the room. The experience, though -- the breakfast, the basketball, the well wishers coming over to say congrats -- has become routine.
The Bulldogs (25-5) are heading to their third straight 4A title game, their fifth in the last six years. The championship press conference is an honor, but by now it’s not what Meyers wants anymore. Meyers is ready to win one.
“I have enough of the basketballs, I have enough of the plaques,” Meyers said. “I appreciate everything, so I don’t want to sound unappreciative, but I want more.”
Southeast Raleigh rides into Saturday’s game against West Forsyth (26-3) on a 16-game winning streak. The Titans head to Raleigh with a matching 16-game streak. The Bulldogs will be playing in their own backyard -- Reynolds Coliseum is five minutes from campus -- and will have plenty of fan support, making them the favorites. But that’s also nothing new.
Southeast Raleigh came into the title game a year ago a perfect 30-0 before losing to Northwest Guilford 44-36. The previous year the Bulldogs were 32-0 on the final Saturday of the year and again fell to Northwest Guilford.
“That hurt,” Meyers admitted. “But I think the girls going through adversity early and being tested early, gives us a lot of confidence going into the state championship game.”
The Bulldogs don’t have a perfect mark this time, and a loss to Leesville Road on Jan. 11 was just what the team needed, according to Meyers, saying it refocused her group and got them back on the same page.
After defeating the Pride in the Cap-7 championship on Feb. 22, Meyers said she would let the team enjoy that victory for 48 hours and on that Monday it was back to work to focus on the post season. Asked at the the time how she would bring them back to earth, Meyers said her team had a coach who had no problem reminding them of the realities from the previous seasons.
Since the playoffs started, it turns out she hasn’t had to say much at all.
“We have a huddle at the beginning of our practice where we set the tone and what we want our focus to be on and at this point, everyone is like, ‘We don’t have too much to say. Let’s just get it done,’” Meyers said.
Meyers talked about the bumps and bruises this team had to endure that other state title teams didn’t. This current group lost four games in the month of December, more games than the previous two Southeast Raleigh teams combined. But Meyers learned something about her group during those games, sometimes trailing by as many as 20 at the half, to battle back and make it competitive.
Those games were against teams in the top 20 in the nation, and the Bulldogs continued to fight.
“They might be down, things might not be going well, but they don’t give up,” Meyers said. “I think that’s something that has helped us throughout the course of the season.”
Experience will also favor Southeast Raleigh. Of the 11 players on her roster, eight have played in a state championship game before. Her seniors -- Tamia Davis, Jada Person, Nevaeh Haddock, Maya Johnson -- have played in three title games. They know better than anyone what it’s like to be on the wrong side of the scoreboard. The second place team gets medals for playing in the title game, probably some other perks like t-shirts and other state title game memorabilia.
Meyers doesn’t know what they do with the stuff, she’s pretty certain they don’t throw it away. But she’s also pretty sure, like herself, they are tired of showing up and coming up empty.
“They want something else,” Meyers said. “They are not satisfied with what they had in the past. They want to be champions.”