When a team has been as dominant as Miami Country Day’s girls’ basketball team has – winning four straight state championships – it must find ways to challenge itself throughout the season.
This year, Lady Spartans head coach Ochiel Swaby – who recently was honored by the school by having the gymnasium floor named in his honored – put his team through a rigorous schedule against programs from all over the country.
That treacherous regular-season stretch paved the way for playoff performances like Thursday night’s easy 69-31 victory over visiting Westminster Academy in the Class 4A regional semifinals.
Miami Country Day (17-10) had 12 players score points Thursday, including a team-high 11 points and seven rebounds from junior forward Koi Love. Senior Aasiya Berry added nine points while Maria Alvarez, Asha Taylor and eighth graders Sydney Shaw and Emani Theodule all finished with eight points.
After leading 44-16 at the half, Miami Country Day’s lead swelled in the second half – pushing Westminster Academy’s deficit past 35 points late in the third quarter and turning on a running clock for the final 10 minutes of the game.
The Lady Spartans will face Palm Beach Benjamin (22-2) next Tuesday in the regional final – where Miami Country Day can clinch its sixth consecutive trip the state final four.
The balanced scoring and lopsided score was a product of the Spartans’ full-court press defense. Miami Country Day’s pressure forced Westminster Academy into 28 turnovers and tired out the Lions, who only had five players available Thursday.
Swaby said that his team would’ve pressed their opponent whether it had five or 15 players.
“That’s what we do…we press people full court and we play fast-paced basketball,” said Swaby, who still holds many Miami-Dade County scoring records from his own playing days at North Miami High School.
“We took care of business tonight. I feel like we’re the best team in the classification, we just have to go out and show it every night. Without a doubt, I think that the schedule we played this year prepared us for the playoff run.”
“Some might say we put this young group through too tough of a wringer, but we’re our goal isn’t to have a pretty record against a bunch of fluffy teams…we’re about developing our players, putting them in against top competition so that they become better all-around players and gain exposure and recognition,” Swaby added.
Miami Country Day wasted little time jumping out on top of the Lions (21-5), turning a six-point lead into a 12-point lead over the final 100 seconds of the first quarter. The Spartans’ lead ballooned in the second, with them going on two separate runs to take a 28-point halftime lead.
Westminster Academy’s Destiny Mergilles finished with a game-high 15 points and tied for a team-high six rebounds, but the Lions got little production from its other four active players.
Regional Semifinals – Miami Country Day 69, Westminster Academy 31: WMA (21-5): Mergilles 15, Wallhoff 7, Erickson 5, Atkinson 3, Simone-Davis 1. MCD (17-10): Love 11, Berry 9, Alvarez 8, Shaw 8, Taylor 8, E. Theodule 8, Kaiser 6, J. Theodule 3, McCormack 2, Gordon 2, Doctor 2, Sheppard 2. Halftime: MCD 44-16. Technicals: None. Fouled Out: None. Three-pointers: Alvarez 2, Taylor 2, Kaiser 2, E. Theodule 2, Wallhoff, Mergilles. Rebounds: Love 7. Assists: 2 tied 4. Steals: J. Theodule 5.