Late Friday, a new champion will be crowned in NCAA Div. II.
If you had asked at the beginning of the week, Clayton State looked like a shoo-in to bring home its second national title in the last three seasons.
However, the Lakers lost in the Elite Eight to upstart Augustana to end its title run, two games short of a championship game appearance.
There is still a belief that the Lakers are the best team in the country, but unfortunately on Tuesday, they didn’t play their best. Clayton State coach Dennis Cox will be the first to tell you that Augustana had something to do with that.
The Vikings’ height, and shooting did as much damage as Clayton State’s inability to find some consistency and the basket.
Clayton State’s aggressive pressure defense forced the Vikings into 32 turnovers, but they were unable to pick openings in their opponent’s defense.
If defense wins championships, then Clayton State was definitely in a good position. In 32 games, the team was surrendering only 54 points per game to it opposition.
But Augustana got hot and Clayton State looked out of synch the entire game.
The question becomes was this Clayton State’s best shot at winning another national title?
Yes. All the pieces seemed to be in place with an All-American hometown guard in Drameka Griggs leading the charge. A newfound inside game that was dominant. Reliable substitutions coming off the bench. And a team with a lot of grit and determination.
Was this Clayton State’s last shot at a national title?
No. When you have a proven leader like Cox, it is easy to believe the Lakers will be back. Of course they must replace Griggs and her supporting cast of Kayla Mobley, Shannon Smith and Keona Dixon.
That will not be an easy task.
They are seasoned veterans that played with a determination and urgency.
What Cox can only hope is that the returning players picked up on those tendencies and come back even hunger. It is a sure bet that the loss on Tuesday left a bitter taste.
It would seem that with the high profile of the program, attracting players will not be a problem. The Lakers are a solid recruiting class away from another run.
Surely Cox’s phone has been ringing from a Div. I player ready to transfer or a junior college player ready to make an immediate impact.
This senior class will be missed, but they have left a legacy on the program. They were part of the cutting down of the championship nets in 2011. These seniors have shown the underclassmen the way to a regular season, tournament and regional championship.
Now is the time for the underclassmen to assume the role of leader.
Derrick Mahone is the sports editor of the Clayton News Daily/Henry Daily News newspapers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.