DUDLEY — The plaque reads “Eastern Carolina 3A/4A Conference Girls’ Basketball Coach of the Year.”
A name is not engraved on it.
And Ricky Lofton prefers it that way.
In fact, if the 11-year Southern Wayne head coach had a choice, he’d ask the engraver to list his assistant coaches, players, managers and the Saints’ community on the nameplate instead. Always modest in his success, Lofton will tell you the honor belongs to them, too.
“I was shocked,” Lofton said of the accolade.
“We have played a lot better this year than in the past. I have some really tough girls... who stepped up to the test. We’ve been playing great, getting better and better and better every game.”
Not tall in stature, but undoubtedly feisty in nature, Southern Wayne racked up 16 wins — the most in a single season since 2008.
The Saints also filed a program-best 9-3 ledger in the highly-competitive and physical ECC. That impressive performance included a regular-season split with perennial 4A power South Central, and first-ever regular-season sweeps of New Bern and J.H. Rose.
Yet, Lofton’s club didn’t seem to be headed in that direction.
Southern Wayne ended 2019 with a 6-7 record.
The Saints dropped five contests to teams who eventually won either their regular-season conference title or are projected as at-large teams for the postseason. Each of those opponents have posted 15 or more victories.
Despite the sub-par record, Lofton’s charges launched the new millennium with confidence.
“I just told them to keep playing,” he said.
All of a sudden, the victories came – five straight to be exact.
Usually a mid-tier program in the highly-competitive ECC, the Saints seized sole possession of second place behind DHC after first-half league play concluded. Despite lack of depth on the bench, Lofton’s team achieved its status with a stifling full-court press that created turnovers and fueled a consistent fast-break attack.
The Saints swipe an eye-popping 16.8 steals a game and have forced 549 turnovers – an average of 22 per game.
They also crash the boards – 31.7 rebounds per game, to be exact. The window cleaning has helped lead to 628 free throw attempts – the most by any team in the ECC this season.
“Our guards started making plays, we started feeding the post and everybody started sharing the ball,” Lofton said. “When we start pressing and get turnovers, that’s our best offense. They love it, but I have to do it in spurts because I have to give them a break to catch their breath.”
They’ve accomplished these phenomenal tasks without two key players – junior guard Alissa Meadows and freshman Ta’Niyah Glaspie. Meadows hasn’t played since mid-December due to an injury. Glaspie suffered a meniscus injury. A tenacious rebounder with quick hands on defense, her absence creates a slight void.
Lofton and assistant coach Takisha Vann revamped the lineup to compensate for the loss. Jamaiya Bass dropped in a career-high 18 points and Jamaya Leach snared a career-high 16 rebounds in an ECC tournament victory over arch rival Eastern Wayne.
Southern Wayne (16-10 overall) fell to South Central in the ECC tournament semifinals.
The Saints entertained Chapel Hill in opening-round action of the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs on Tuesday.