Photo by Heather Middleton
By Kathy Jefcoats
The first women's athletic team in Georgia to win an NCAA national championship calls Clayton County home, and that's worth recognizing and celebrating.
Clayton State University's Lady Lakers easily snatched the NCAA Division II basketball title from the Michigan Tech Huskies on March 25, ending the season at 35-1.
Head Coach Dennis Cox was honored Monday night as the NCAA Division II Coach of the Year, during the WBCA National Convention in Indianapolis.
"It's been quite a ride," said Cox, in a phone interview Tuesday on his way back from the convention. "Every day, it sinks in a little bit more. But we are anxious to be back and continue recruiting."
Closer to home, the Clayton County legislative delegation honored the team March 31 with a dual resolution. "It needs to be repeated over and again," said State Sen. Valencia Seay (D-Riverdale). "We are so very proud of each and every one of the girls and their coaches."
Seay, who played basketball for Frederick Douglass High School in Atlanta as an "original Astro," knows the swell of emotion and pride the team feels. "I understand exactly what they are going through," she said. "They were teasing me about going on the road with them, because I am such a cheerleader for them."
Fellow State Sen. Gail Davenport (D-Morrow), called the team "phenomenal."
"We're just so proud of them," said Davenport. "The athletic department is young, seven years, and to do this is just phenomenal. They've done a wonderful job this season."
The team was also recognized in the State House, in a resolution presented by State Rep. Sandra Scott (D-Rex). "They did a victorious and outstanding job," she said. "It's awesome, great and marvelous. I see only great things coming from this. The girls have put Clayton State on the map."
Cox, who came to Clayton State in 2004, is the second-winningest Division II women's head coach, according to the NCAA. He said the players came together as a unit to create the winning team. "It was a special group of kids, and I say 'was' because they will never play together again," he said.
"There was a special chemistry with this group. They made a lot of sacrifices for each other and the team. They had to work really hard to put aside differences and stay focused."
Being recognized by top state leaders was an incredible experience, but not all the players could attend the ceremony. "We would have loved to have taken all the players, but we had to take a week off to play in the championship and that put some of the kids behind academically," he said. "Not all were able to go; they are students first."
With national signing day a week away, Cox said his focus is on recruiting the best players for a possible repeat. "We'd like to try it again, our goal is winning, to continue winning," he said.