By Bryan Davis
The Hebron Christian School basketball teams have been playing some of their toughest competition of the season as of late. Last Saturday, the two teams hosted one of the state’s leading powerhouses in Leake Academy. Both Leake teams were victorious, marking the first loss of the season for the Lady Eagles.
It was the third loss for the boys team in 11 games, but that did not get either one of the squads down. The War Eagles have few worries as they both boast solid district records. Those district wins are the product of great teamwork, but it has been the consistency of Tori Nichols, for the girls, and Carlton Clay, for the boys, that has propelled both teams into contention for district titles.
Nichols, the junior and Houston native, has been putting up right around 20 points a game all season. She’s had a lot of help from players like Cathryn Moore, Hillary Arnold and Magen Tapley, but when it comes to day-in and day-out threats, Nichols is the player most teams double team.
“I just try to get everybody pumped up on defense,” Nichols said. “Coach always tells us that defense wins games.”
Nichols has few problems with assuming a leadership role as a junior on this team. It is her leadership that has led to the early Hebron success.
“I try to keep them up the whole game, in case we get down,” Nichols said. “When we get down we tend to not do as well.”
For the boys team, Clay has been everything that was advertised. He had a string of games two weeks ago where he put up 100 points in three contests. Clay might seem like a one-man show, but he credits his teammates with his ability to score with such magnitude.
“It’s a good job by my teammates being patient,” Clay said. “We’re just patient on offense, and we wait for some stuff to open up for me. We take advantage of what the defense gives me.”
Hebron head coach Greg Watkins said at the beginning of the season that his offense was going to be rn through Clay, but his teammates have responded very well to that reality.
“With every team we play, they focus so much on me, it opens everybody else up,” Clay said. “I try to do a good job of getting everybody else the ball when they collapse on me. I try to drive through the land, or if I’ve got an open shot, I’ll take it.”
For Clay, it’s about getting the ball to him as soon as his teammates can. For Nichols, the offense is more balanced, and she sees herself as the go-to player when the team is in trouble.
“I just know that sometimes if we have an off outside shooting night, I have to step up and make more down low,” Nichols said. “When they double me, I know that I have to get it out to the outside.”
Whether they’re putting up 10 or 40 points, Clay and Nichols say their team’s overall success in 2010-2011 will hinge on teamwork, and the both are confident that teamwork is sound.
“We just play really well together,” Nichols said. “We won games I really didn’t think we had a chance in. I always tell them that they amaze me, because they always pull off the shots and the big plays on defense.”
For Clay and the Eagles, it’s all about execution.
“We play more together than we have in the past,” Clay said. “It’s like we’re all brothers on the court.”
The Starkville native says that the Eagles’ good play on the court comes from a lot of time spent in practice.
“That comes from hard work in practice,” Clay said. “We try to do a good job of executing our plays in practice together.”
The Eagles got back on the winning side last Monday night, with a victory over Oak Hill Academy. Clay put up 38 points on the Raiders. Nichols, in the Lady Eagles’ loss to Leake on Saturday, put up 23 points on the Lady Rebels.
As these two teams push toward the winter break, it’s clear that the War Eagles’ start has been no fluke, and with a host of great athletes, they are ready to make a push for possibly a pair of championships.