March 2, 2009
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- From Kayla Robinson''s perspective, the Aberdeen High School girls basketball team will have its work cut out for it at 8 tonight when it takes on Raymond in the Class 3A Mississippi High School Activities Association Cellular South State Basketball Championships at Mississippi Coliseum.
The Lady Rangers are ranked No. 1 in Class 3A and are riding a state-best 24-game winning streak.
That''s impressive enough.
But when you factor in that Raymond has eliminated Aberdeen (28-7) in the first round of the state tournament the past two seasons, you get a sense of the magnitude of the challenge the Lady Bulldogs face tonight.
Repeated phone messages left for Aberdeen coach Cloyd Garth and with Raymond coach Shay Jackson went unreturned, so Robinson''s perspective on the game will have to do.
Robinson, a 6-foot-2 forward, is a freshman on the University of Alabama women''s basketball team. She is averaging 2.3 points and 2.8 rebounds in 14 games this season for the Crimson Tide (13-16).
Last season, Robinson scored 14 points in a 54-37 victory against Aberdeen. The Lady Rangers led 17-0 and 33-6 before the Lady Bulldogs regrouped in the second half to make the game more competitive.
Janairrika Bland, a 6-3 forward/center, paced Raymond with 17 points and 19 rebounds. Valencia McFarland added 11 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists for Raymond.
Aberdeen''s Jameika Hoskins, the team''s leading scorer this season, had only four points.
"We came out with a lot of confidence because we had played in the same game the year before," Robinson said. "Because we beat them that year we just knew we were going to do it again."
The year before, Raymond eliminated Aberdeen 82-58.
Raymond finished 33-3 last season and has been a state runner-up the past two seasons. And while it might not have reached the sustained excellence of other state powers like Murrah and Gentry, the Lady Rangers are making a name for themselves.
"We have gotten better each year," Robinson said. "This year, I definitely think they''re going to win it. From all of the text messages I am getting it, they think they''re going to win it, too."
Robinson was named to the Clarion-Ledger Dandy Dozen as a senior. She was a North/South Junior All-Star and played in the Mississippi/Alabama All-Star game.
McFarland, who has given a verbal commitment to play basketball at Ole Miss, is Robinson''s cousin, so Robinson isn''t going to hold it against her that she has decided to go to another school in the SEC.
Robinson said she plans to be in Jackson tonight, along with a healthy contingent of fans from Edwards, to watch the Raymond girls.
"They have a good coach in coach Jackson and a lot of good players in Janairrika Bland and Valencia McFarland," Robinson said. "I believe they can go all of the way because they are playing good team ball and they''re playing excellent now."
Despite Raymond''s long winning streak and its history of success against Aberdeen, Robinson said the Lady Bulldogs should come out attacking. She said it is easier to play a team you have played before and that could work to one of the team''s advantages tonight.
"I think they will come in with a lot of passion and effort," Robinson said. "I think they will feel sort of intimidated because they have been beaten twice in the same game in the state tournament. I believe they will come in and give it their all and do their best."
As for Raymond, Robinson said her former teammates should play with a lot of confidence. They have been in position before, so she doesn''t see any reason why tonight should be any different than the previous two years.
"I think (the Lady Rangers) should come out as if they had played them as if they have already beat them and beat them," Robinson said. "(Aberdeen) will have to play good defensive man-on-man and contain Miss McFarland and Miss Bland. If they don''t do that they definitely won''t be successful."
Aberdeen is coming off a 56-53 victory against South Pike on Tuesday. Hoskins paced Aberdeen with 28 points. The Lady Bulldogs made just 14 of 34 free throws in the victory, their first in the state tournament.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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