By the time you read this, Waite's girls basketball team will have either reclaimed the City League championship or fallen short of its No. 1 goal.
Following Waite’s (14-4, 10-1) 73-60 win over Central Catholic (10-8, 9-2) in the CL semifinal Wednesday, the Indians and Coach Manny May had no idea what was about to transpire in the CL final Saturday at the Sullivan Center against top-seeded Start.
Waite captured the league title three straight years before losing to Central Catholic in last year's title game.
"After giving it up last year, they're (Waite players) starting a new legacy for themselves. They have to reclaim something they lost. We will find out how bad they want it,” May said. "This (CL title) is one of the things they marked down on their 'mental board.' I believe they're going to come out very determined. They want to get to the district and move through the tournament toward a state championship."
The CL final four started with the semifinals on Wednesday, with top-seeded Start (15-3, 11-0) defeating fourth-seeded Notre Dame Academy (10-8, 7-4) 52-41 in the other semifinal.
The Indians were confident they could past Central since Waite crushed the Irish 71-41 on Jan. 28 behind a career-high 29 points from junior guard Mariah Haynes.
"Central's point guard, (Sierra) Calhoun got in foul trouble early in the game, and they played pretty much a 1-3-1 zone and a variety of zones," May recalled. "Our kids really played hard that game. We got out rebounded by two, but we were making our shots. Mariah was open on the wing, and we teach kids to shoot if they're open. She was on fire that night. This time we are anticipating they know exactly where she is on the floor and not let her shoot jump shots."
The Irish also had to think about defending one of the best players in the area in 6-3 junior center Natasha Howard, who has 1,031 career points heading into the CL final four. Sharese Ulis (1,211) and Sonya Washington (1,004) are the only other Waite girls with 1,000 career points.
May believed that Central Catholic would play a different game from their first meeting, which makes this second victory that much rewarding.
"Central will get out with much more pressure, get after the ball and be aggressive and not be passive in their zone coverage," he said. "We executed well against their zone. “
Start handed Waite a 49-48 loss on Dec. 3 at Start.
"They wanted it more at the end than we did," May said. "We allowed the physicality of the game to disrupt us. We have to be smarter. Both teams have greatly improved. We have to be aggressive going to the basket and not allow dribble penetration and not allow second shots."
The key to Waite's game is usually defense. The Indians are scoring 65 points a game and allowing around 45 a game.
"We're getting better on the defensive concepts. That's the key point," May said. "As time rolls down and tournament time rolls around, we are starting to get better."
May said Waite’s starting lineup against Start will include Howard, junior guard Courtney Jackson, Haynes and senior forward Stephanie Keaton. The fifth spot is yet to be determined.
"It could be Amanda Gregory or Shanice McNeal," the coach said. "It depends on what transpires during that time."
Howard is averaging 15.1 points and 6.5 rebounds while Gregory, a 6-2 junior, averages 10 points and a team-leading 8.5 rebounds. Haynes and Jackson average 12 and seven points, respectively.
The Indians return to Central Catholic on Feb. 28 for the Division I sectional, where they will face either Bowling Green or Bowsher. Waite defeated Bowsher 80-42 earlier this season.