COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Every year is a chance to add to the record book, and the Lady Nubians add to it like no other team in the area. With the talented sister duo of junior Kayla and freshman Kennedy Houston, the Centennial Lady Stars presented a tough challenge for Africentric. But the experience, depth and defensive pressure that the Lady Nubians exerted ultimately prevailed and they won their ninth consecutive City League championship, 81-48.
“No, absolutely not,” head coach Janicia Anderson told me when asked if the feeling of winning City League titles ever gets old. She has now won back-to-back titles as head coach after winning multiple as an assistant for the Lady Nubians as well.
A spirited start from Centennial was matched by the intensity of the Lady Nubian defense, giving way to a 4-4 tie early in the game. After four straight points from the reigning City League and state champions, the Lady Stars called a timeout to regroup. They regrouped in the manner of a quick 5-0 run which was capped off by the freshman Kennedy Houston splitting a pair at the line, free throws the were the result of the fifth Africentric team fouls.
Unfazed by the run, Janicia Anderson’s squad responded with a 7-0 run of their own to go up 15-9 with just over two minutes left in the opening quarter. The Lady Nubians ended the quarter leading 19-13.
Africentric and Centennial both hit each other with heavy blows in the second quarter, with each team having key moments during the eight minutes. Senior forward and Buffalo commit, Sam Thompson dropped in a midrange jumper to give her team a 35-21 advantage, the biggest of the game up to that point. The Lady Stars ended the half and went into the locker room at East High School on a 7-2 run to trim the lead to 37-28.
Starting the second half with junior guard Shaunie Little gave the Lady Nubians a little more pressure defensively in containing the freshman, Houston. It was a total team effort from Africentric in the third quarter, with six total Lady Nubians notching points on the scoreboard. The ball movement and unselfishness from a team this talented is rare to see. The senior quartet of DePaul commit Natiah Nelson, Dayton commit Kamryn Grant, Buffalo commit Sam Thompson and state track champ Ashtan Winfrey all contributed big time in the third quarter, combining for 14 of the team’s 22 points in the frame.
A small, competitive tussle between Kennedy Houston and Sam Thompson led to both ladies being given technical fouls. The tech gave the younger Houston her fifth foul and disqualified her from the game. Her older sister tried to hold down the fort but the defensive pressure never let up and the Lady Nubians closed out the game. Sophomore Jeniya Bowers hit three triples in the final frame and four total for the game to continue to push the lead. When the final buzzer went off, the Lady Nubians seized their ninth City League title in a row.
Thompson, responding to a question, barely mumbled out the words “I can’t talk,” in a low, monotone voice. A true testament to how much she was communicating on the court.
Freshman Kennedy Houston finished the game with a game-high 22 points, along with four rebounds and four steals. Her sister, junior Kayla Houston, ended the ballgame with 13 points and six rebounds. The Lady Stars will return every starter next season, setting them up for another run at this game.
Four players finished in double-digits for Africentric, led by senior Sam Thompson, who finished with 21-points to lead the team and 10 rebounds, tying with Kamryn Grant for the team lead. Grant added nine points and two steals as well after sitting a majority of the opening half. Sophomore Jeniya Bowers scored 16 and grabbed five boards. Nelson put up 14 points and five rebounds while Ashtan Winfrey added in 12 points and four assists.
Here are 5 keys to Africentric adding another trophy to the collection:
1. Defensive Pressure: The Lady Nubians did not let up off of their press the entire game, disrupting things for Centennial early and causing numerous turnovers throughout the contest. Ashtan Winfrey and Shaunie Little provided excellent on-ball defense on the perimeter while Thompson, Nelson and Grant made life miserable inside for the Lady Stars. They made the opponent settle for deep jumpers and never panicked when they hit one. This team’s defense will be able to carry them through any rough offensive patch they may hit during the tournament.
2. Rotational Depth: Centennial fought valiantly, but as the third quarter progressed and fourth quarter rolled around, the visible look of exhaustion was evident on the faces of the Lady Stars. Only playing one player off their bench until the final quarter, mixed in with how fast the Lady Nubians force teams to play, made for tired players. Meanwhile, coach Janicia Anderson went nine-deep and gave her team the rest that was needed. Also, Kam Grant picking up two quick fouls made her go to the bench sooner than she wanted.
3. Experience plays a part: With four seniors on the court, and a fifth in Rayanna Howell there for moral support, this team is way past experienced. They have played in the biggest of games and never let the bright lights become a distraction for them. They were loose during warmups, with Nelson leading the way with her rapping and dancing. The senior laden squad operates like one on the court and they don’t seem to let a moment get too big for them.
4. High Level Athletes: Centennial did not quit and played hard until the last whistle, but with three current Division 1 commits on the floor, with another that will be sooner or later, it is flat out hard to overcome that talent. This is one of, if not, the most talented girls basketball team to come through the Columbus City League. The debates amongst Lady Nubian players past and present will commence forever about which team is the best, this one should be high on the list.
5. Adding to History: Nine straight Columbus City League championships, let that sink in. The Lady Nubians are the gold standard of the entire league, boys or girls, the consistency they display on the court to the class they show off the court and even the grades in the classroom. Everything they do is top tier. From top to bottom, this is a program that should be admired and a case study for other schools.