NEWARK – It’s only been four years, but it seemed like forever since Ursuline won its last state title in girls basketball.
The Raiders (20-4) avenged their only in-state loss with a convincing 49-29 victory over top-seeded Sanford School March 9 at the Bob Carpenter Center. It was the school’s 14th championship, but their first since 2008 and the first for any of this year’s players. It was also a first for their coach, John Noonan.
“To see them smiling and cutting down the net, and singing ‘We Are the Champions,’ it’s a pretty special moment,” Noonan said.
The loss ended Sanford’s 16-game winning streak and two-year run as state champion. The Warriors finished the season 19-5.
Sanford’s Chrishyanah Alston scored the game’s first basket, but No. 2 Ursuline took control after some early jitters and led, 9-4, at the end of the first quarter and 16-9 at the half. Ursuline held Sanford’s Anjie White, who is headed to George Washington University next season, to two points in the first half and 10 for the game.
The Raiders double- and triple-teamed White throughout the game, clogged the passing lanes and forced Sanford into 15 turnovers. Noonan said senior forward Jillian Lyons deserved recognition for the job she did on White.
“I think Jillian Lyons proved that she’s a tremendous basketball player. She was matched up against a big-time Division I prospect in Anjaleace White, and Jillian Lyons played a terrific ball game,” he said.
On the offensive side of the ball, Lyons got open consistently and scored 12 points, behind only Meghan Carter’s 13.
Sanford was able to pull within four points at 22-18 early in the third quarter, but Ursuline responded with an 11-0 run until the Warriors’ Johanna McMillan hit a three-pointer at the end of the quarter. Ursuline ended any doubts about the outcome when, with a 33-25 lead, they scored the next 14 points.
Sanford was unable to repeat its earlier performance against Ursuline, a 31-30 win in the regular-season finale. Noonan said the rematch was different because it was a bigger stage and not on Sanford’s home court. He said he used that game as a test. He wanted them to know what pressure felt like, and he yelled at them more that night than usual.
“That game was perfect for that. I think it helped us tonight,” he said.
Freshman guard Adrianna Hahn, who scored 11 points, said the Ursuline that showed up for the first game between the teams was not the Raiders she knew.
“When we lost (to Sanford), we said to ourselves, ‘Is this really us?’ We didn’t come as a family, we didn’t come as Ursuline Raiders. I felt like this is the game to prove to everybody that we are the team that wanted the states the most,” she said.
Carter said the championship was especially gratifying after what happened last year, when Ursuline lost in the semifinals in overtime to Cape Henlopen. The Raiders were down two starters in that game – including Hahn – after they had been injured in the quarterfinal round against Hodgson.
“It feels unbelievable. It’s a great feeling. We’ve gone through so much in the past, and it’s so rewarding to achieve this and finally feel so great about it,” Carter said. “We wanted this real bad; we worked so hard all year, and it’s about time that we finally got it.”
Noonan said the Raiders went to the gym every day with one goal – and it was not to cut down the nets at the Bob.
“We actually never talked about winning the state championship,” he said. “We went to practice every day with one goal, to get better. And I think tonight proved that they got better every day, and they played their best basketball tonight.”