A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis...
Different Paths, Same Results
CHARLOTTE — Ever since I attended my first CIAA Tournament back in 1998, I’ve always been left in awe by the talented players and coaches who have graced the sidelines of this historically filled event.
From the grace of Saint Paul’s Antwain Smith and Bowie State’s Allyson Hardy to the dominance of Shaw’s Ronald “Flip” Murray and N.C. Central’s Amba Kongolo, not only has the CIAA Tournament always featured the league’s best, but also some of the nation’s best players.
Last week’s five-day extravaganza didn’t fail to live up that incredible standard.
While the 2009 players of the year (Elizabeth City’s Anthony Hilliard and Tatiana Hill of Saint Paul’s) made only cameo appearances in the overall tournament, several others raised the bar and helped to “Rock The Rim” in the Queen City.
A look at the two key players on both of the tournament championship teams from Johnson C. Smith are a testament to that.
Both Wendy Stywalt and Jerry Hollis reached the Golden Bulls in different ways, but their final destinations intersected enough to make JCSU become the first CIAA school to take home both hoop crowns in the same year since Norfolk State turned the trick in 1996.
The CIAA’s Rookie of The Year in 2007, Hollis has been one of the league’s best players during has last three seasons at JCSU. The 6-foot-5 junior from nearby Victory Christian High added another stellar chapter to his already impressive resume last week.
After pouring in 21 points in Thursday’s quarters against Shaw and scoring 16 in Friday’s semifinal win over Saint Augustine’s, Hollis may have saved his best overall performance for Saturday’s title win over Virginia Union.
Hollis opened the game on fire offensively. Johnson C. Smith turned an 11-8 deficit into a 24-13 lead with 9:09 remaining in the first half as Hollis scored nine points during the scoring surge for the Golden Bulls. They would lead 34-27 at the break.
Again in the second half, Hollis would be a force offensively and defensively. In a see-saw stretch that saw several lead changes and ties, Ryan Scott (13 points) drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 1:22 remaining to give the Golden Bulls a 62-58 lead.
On Virginia Union’s next two possessions, Hollis and Tavaris Little (12 points) blocked shots to help keep the CIAA crown in Charlotte. Hollis had a team high 19 points as JCSU avenged two regular season losses to Virginia Union.
UNCC’s LOSS IS JCSU’s GAIN
One year ago, Wendy Stywalt was a member of the UNC Charlotte women’s squad. After transferring to JCSU, the Charlotte native was a main cog in helping the Lady Golden Bulls and coach Vanessa Taylor to their first CIAA crown.
After scoring a modest 15 points in the Lady Golden Bulls’ 74-66 opening win against Shaw, Stywalt would literally take over the women’s tournament. In the semifinal win against Saint Augustine’s (59-53), she contributed 24 points, eight rebounds, and four assists.
Her performance earned Most Valuable Player honors for the game.
But arguably, the 5-foot-8 junior would save her best performance against the top-seeded Lady Bulldogs of Bowie State in Saturday’s title game. At the 10:00 mark on the first half, Stywalt gave her team their first lead of the game at 10-9 when she converted a three-point play after being fouled in the paint.
However, she was far from done. Late in the first half, Stywalt converted baskets on back-to-back possessions for the Lady Golden Bulls to pull ahead 24-23. JCSU would lead 26-24 at the break and the Stywalt show would heat up even more in the second half.
With 12:00 remaining, she hit two foul shots to give JCSU their first lead of the second half at 32-30. Stywalt then grabbed a defensive rebound at the 10:00 mark and drove down the floor for a lay up to give her team the largest lead of the half at 36-33.
She took the offense into her own hands as she scored nine straight points for JCSU to give the game the largest lead at 41-33 with 6:30 to play. Stywalt continued to dazzle the crowd, converting buckets in transition and hitting shots at the line, spreading her teams lead to 11 points with 1:04 to play in the game.
Stywalt finished with a game-high 30 points and 12 rebounds and was named to the Food Lion All Tournament Team. With the 49-36 win, Head Coach Vanessa Taylor and her Lady Golden Bulls won their first title in four appearances in the championship game.