Theirs is the story of legends.
A team of young, inexperienced, gritty players led by a few veteran athletes defying the odds,
shocking a conference and doing what most underdogs only dream of doing…winning it all.
It’s not a story unfolding on televisions everywhere though as the NCAA brackets begin, but rather it’s a story closer to home where the dreams of March Madness are first sparked.
It’s a story where young players take to their school’s basketball court for the first time in their lives; where the values of teamwork, good sportsmanship and game fundamentals are more important than the score board.
It’s the story of the 2018 undefeated season for Neuse Charter Middle School Girls’ Basketball.
Coach Robbie Taylor, parent of player Anna Taylor and Neuse Charter School board member, volunteered to coach the team this year, along with Corn Robertson, parent of player Kayla Robertson.
Coach Taylor expressed pre-season concerns about his rookie team playing in a Johnston County Middle School conference against teams with larger talent pools and experienced players.
“We had a total of 10 players,” Coach Taylor said. “Only four of those 10 had ever played organized basketball; the others had never even been on the court.”
Coach Taylor quickly learned that what his team lacked for in fundamentals, they made up for in the way of hard work and attitude.
“The team had a focus that was a little different,” he said. “They came to practice every day with a good work ethic. After the first game it was obvious the team played with a lot of heart and determination.”
But while the team pulled their first pre-conference victory against Swift Creek Middle, it wasn’t until a few games later that Coach Taylor knew they had a chance to go all the way.
“After our first conference game I felt good about our level of competiveness,” he said. “After our 4th conference game against Meadow I felt we definitely had a chance to win the conference.”
Kayla Robertson, one of the team’s captains, said she knew from the start that the team had a good chance of winning it all.
Kayla and Anna, both 7th grade veteran players, had played travel ball together for four years. Despite the intense level of training and commitment that goes with playing travel ball, coupled with maintaining a rigorous academic schedule, neither girl had a second thought about playing for their school team and winning a conference title.
“I’m proud to represent my school,” said Anna, who ensured a consecutive sweep with a game-winning free throw in the last 2.4 seconds of their season closer against North Johnston.
“Anna and I knew how to play well together, where to expect the ball to go, how to move around the court,” Robertson said. “From the start of the season I was confident we’d win the conference.”
Rookie player and 6th grader Greyson Dunn wasn’t as confident as Robertson coming into the season, but it didn’t take long for the scrappy, new point guard to see what her veteran teammates saw.
“I started to think we could win the conference mid-season when we had beaten every team,” said Dunn. “Even though most of our team was inexperienced, we had the drive to learn and win.”
Coach Taylor made his expectations clear early-on that the team would work hard and have fun.
“As we worked hard I would tell them that talent was a gift, but character was a choice,” he said. “It didn’t take talent to work hard and hustle.”
The message resonated with the young women as they racked up other victories against Selma, Four Oaks, Friendship Christian, Benson and Princeton and East Wake Academy.
As March Madness has demonstrated over and over you never doubt the determination and drive of a young, inexperienced team to pull off what others deem impossible.
“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard,” Dunn said quoting NBA superstar Kevin Durant.
And with chances high of the entire team returning next year, these girls have their sights set on another conference title with as much hard work as it takes to do it all over again.