The Monarchs youth basketball team have a big reason to be merry this holiday season.
The girls squad defeated the Sparks 62-53 in the Appleby Under-19 Basketball League final. The Sir Vassell Johnson Hall at the University College of the Cayman Islands hosted the contest last Saturday.
Monarchs’ star April Ebanks states the championship is the culmination of much hard work.
“We’re happy to get away from the same team,” Ebanks said. “We have a very energetic team. We practiced very hard and showed what we got. We played as team and did what the coach told us to do.”
Ebanks would notch 14 points and 16 rebounds to secure the Finals Most Valuable Player trophy. It is the first U19 title for Ebanks in her fourth campaign. The Monarchs’ title stops the Sparks from completing a repeat championship and halts La-Torae Nixon’s run of success in youth basketball.
Another Monarchs player happy to raise the championship trophy is Rochel Gardener, 14. The Savannah resident, also in her fourth season, nailed the game-winning free throws. She states it is great to come out on top.
“It feels good, like I’m on top of the world,” Gardener said. “We have the bragging rights to say we won. We came out to be champions.
“We came out with the mind-set to win with the most talent and team-work. It was a combination of us both shutting her (La-Torae) down and playing our game. Will we repeat next year? Of course. We got to defend our championship, right?”
As with any good final, Saturday’s contest was close. The Monarchs were ahead for most of the game but head coach Wendy Manzanares pushed her Sparks to keep the deficit within single digits. At one point in the fourth quarter the game would be tied before turnovers, ill-advised shots and missed defensive assignments deflated the 2010 winners.
The championship caps off what was a dominant season by the Monarchs. The side won the regular season crown at 7-2, ahead of the 6-3 Sparks. They had the league’s best offence (scoring 474 points) and produced the second-ranked defence (allowing 401 points). Leading the charge was Christina McLean (15.6ppg, 7.0rpg), Gardener (14.1ppg, 5.7rpg) and Ebanks (13.9ppg, 20.1rpg).
At the helm of the Monarchs was head coach Cassianne Lawrence. The women’s basketball star states she is proud of her team.
“I was excited for this final and I’m so happy with my girls out there on the court,” Lawrence said. “It’s amazing for them as champions and so gratifying for me seeing them on the court.
“As everyone in the Cayman Islands knows, La-Torae is one of the greatest girls to ever play basketball here at any level. So I told my Monarchs to shut her down and let her get tired. Props go to Rochel (Gardener) and Alexandra Hawkins for shutting her down.