Just three years ago Prince Avenue Christian School’s girls basketball team had the number of rival Athens Academy.
The Lady Wolverines had won 11 games in a row and when the Lady Spartans broke the streak it was a monumental stepping-stone for the Lady Spartans and head coach Brian Olson.
Times have changed. The Lady Spartans bested the Lady Wolverines 50-43 on Saturday at the Sinkwich Spartan Center to add to a third straight win over the Lady Wolverines since the 11-game streak came to an end back on Jan. 26 2018.
For Olson, times may have changed and the results may be different but nothing really has changed in the rivalry other than the Lady Spartans have gotten better as a team. There has been a lot of hard work and dedicated young players that have turned the tides over to the Lady Spartans’ side of the rivalry.
“I think it’s rivalry games and I don’t know if anything has necessarily changed, except that I hope that we’ve gotten better,” Olson said. “I hope that it’s our hard work, our dedication, our summer work and our expectations of holding each other accountable. Hopefully, we’re standing by what we’re doing as a program and that’s what I hope it is. I know coach Ricketts does a great job with those girls. They work hard and I think it’s on both sides. For us, everyone has just bought in to what they’re doing and our girls believe in themselves.”
It helps to that the Lady Spartans have added some good young players to the program over the last few years. When the Lady Spartans beat the Lady Wolverines in 2018, only one current player, junior Rose Bone, played a prominent role that night.
Sophomore Jaila Salley-Barnett led the Lady Spartans with 15 points. Bone added 12 points and five rebounds. Freshman Lily Tillman had six points off the bench.
The Lady Spartans’ youth was tested as the heat of a big game overflowed as time wound down on the first half when PACS head coach Richard Ricketts was hit with two technical fouls and ejected from the game.
The Lady Wolverines made a charge in the second half and cut the Lady Spartans’ lead down to four points with 17 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Big free throws by freshman Madeline Wicker and a dagger three-pointer helped the Lady Spartans survive the Lady Wolverines’ surge at the end of the heated night.
Olson saw the nervousness in his team for a few moments as things began to heat up, but applauded them for finding the big plays in the big moments.
“Our freshmen were a little wide eyed,” Olson said. “We did have a freshman step to the line and made two free throws in a key moment. That was a beautiful moment there. The younger girls’ in their confidence is allowing us to hold the older girls accountable a little bit more. They’re all making each other better. The young girls weren’t really ready for that side of it and they got a little nervous, not scared, but they were new to it. The older girls were okay. It was a good experience.”
Ricketts and the Lady Wolverines now have to find a way to rebound from the loss while Ricketts serves a two-game suspension. Ricketts received technical fouls for arguing a foul errantly called on a player who had been subbed out of the game.
Upon receiving the first technical Ricketts continued to discuss the call with officials before receiving another technical. Following the game Ricketts expressed his disappointment with his decisions that cost him to be ejected.
“I probably didn’t respond right and that’s on me,” Ricketts said. “I’m the leader and I have to show more composure than that. It’s on me. I’m directly responsible for what these girls see, hear and I didn’t say anything bad or anything, but I’m an example to them. I take that seriously. I feel bad when I maybe didn’t do that. At the same token, they know I’m going to fight for them. It’s a fine line. That’s on me. Those are three good officials. Our association has good officials. I’ve been doing this 29 years and I’ve never been thrown out of a game. We made enough mistakes that I should have been more upset about our mistakes than I was with them.”
Ricketts will be back when the Lady Wolverines host Commerce High School on Saturday night at 6 p.m.