Championship dreams for LWA

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Two years removed from a victory in the Private Schools Athletic Association title game, the Lawrence Woodmere Academy girls are hoping to cap off the 2018-19 basketball season with another run at a league championship.

The Lady Tigers wrapped up the regular season with a 51-49 victory over visiting Martin Luther on Feb. 5, and entered the PSAA playoffs as the top seed from the league’s West Division.

LWA, which stands at 9-8 overall (7-3 in PSAA play), hosted the winner of the opening round matchup between Martin Luther and The Portledge School on Feb. 12, after press time, for the right to return to the title game. The Lady Tigers dropped a 53-46 decision to Portledge in last season’s championship game.

Winning five of the last six games and three in a row to close out the regular season had LWA head coach Karim Shabazz feeling good about the team’s postseason chances. “When we’re playing together as a team, we do really well,” Shabazz said. “We’ve matured a great deal throughout the season. I like the way we’re playing going into the playoffs.”

A week prior to the win over Martin Luther, the Lady Tigers clinched the West crown with a 43-30 road victory over Avenues: The World School. Seventh-grader Inara Coles scored a career-high 19 points to lead the way. Freshman Naomi Walker pulled down 10 rebounds.

Shabazz, in his fifth-year leading the program, is impressed with his young lineup. “Most teams set a goal of winning a championship, but in our case it’s all about coming together as a team,” Shabazz said. “I tell the girls that what’s most important is learning to be great teammates. Once you accomplish that, everything will come together.”

With all but one player returning next season, the future is rosy at LWA. But, the team’s lone senior, Ariel Dugue, will certainly be missed. Dugue, a two-time All-PSAA selection and the postseason MVP when she led LWA to the program’s only championship, leads the team in scoring and is outstanding on the boards.

Freshman Jada Graves, an All-League selection as an eighth-grader, just gets better and better. Graves is a hard-nosed point guard who takes it to the rack and scores in bunches. She is averaging just over 10 points per game.

While Graves, Coles, and Dugue are all averaging double figures, veteran leadership and the team’s defense, especially when pressing, have been keys to its success. LWA’s only two juniors, Cherish Atkinson, an excellent on-ball defender, and 5-foot-11 Autumn Washington, a strong rebounder and frontcourt presence, set the tone on the defensive end of the floor.

“We have so many underclassmen, so it’s been important for the veteran players to step up and nurture them,” Shabazz said. “It’s been a learning process. Playing against strong non-conference opponents has helped in the team’s progress. When we’re playing like we’re supposed to play, we can beat anyone and win the whole thing.”