By Brian Paglia
DULUTH - Each senior took their turn. First Kayla Lewis, who was in foul trouble after all, a convenient opportunity to pull her in the waning moments of a victory already ensured. Then Chancie Dunn, the one who carried Southwest DeKalb when Lewis lingered on the bench. Then Chyna Miley, who collapsed into the arms of her coach, overcome by the historic moment.
They came off the court one by one just before Southwest DeKalb wrapped up its third straight Class AAAA title with a 65-45 victory over Northwest Whitfield. They were three of eight Lady Panthers seniors that brought coach Kathy Richey-Walton's firm plans for a dynasty to fruition.
The win validated Southwest DeKalb's place in girls basketball history. Not since Morrow won three straight Class AAAA titles from 1989-91 had another team accomplished the feat. Baldwin won three straight titles from 1986-88.
Despite the significance of the moment Friday, Richey-Walton never shied from embracing the historic nature of her team's run, or from discussing it with her team. Rather, the pressure was motivation.
"The kids were aware of it," Richey-Walton said. "Our motto the last three years has been 'The Road: The Rise of a Dynasty.' We never shared that with anybody. I told them to stay humble, don't say anything about it. It's just among us. Once you achieve it, you can tell people that you had a goal that you achieved."
Said Lewis: "We knew we could do something really special and make history and be the third team in girls basketball history in Georgia to win three straight championships in a row."
Lewis, Dunn, Miley and Southwest DeKalb's five other seniors have only known championships. As freshman, they won the DeKalb County junior varsity title. As sophomores, the run began with 32 wins and a 62-46 victory over Fayette County for the state title. The next season looked like a rerun - 29 wins, a 59-46 victory over Fayette County and state title No. 2.
This season, the Lady Panthers dispatched Fayette County in the second round, survived a scare from Loganville in the quarterfinals and withstood a late comeback from Forest Park in the semifinals.
Southwest DeKalb acknowledged it hadn't performed up to its lofty standards throughout this state tournament. But it ended in familiar fashion nonetheless.
"We have won our last game of every season," said a jubilant Dunn after the game.
Tears were plentiful, especially from the seniors. With one final win, their dispersal begins. Dunn is off to Clemson. Lewis, the Georgia Gatorade Player of the Year, is off to Florida. Miley, a 6-foot-2 talent, has much interest from several colleges.
So they savored the moment on the court for one final time.
"It's unbelievable," Dunn said. "I'm just really lost for words. It's just unbelievable. That's all I can say."