Building a program is a process of taking steps and the timetable is different from one team to the next.
The Memorial girls basketball program is a unique one in that it hit the ground running, qualifying for the playoffs in its inaugural 2018-2019 campaign.
The Warriors repeated the feat a season ago, returning to the playoffs, but for the second year in a row, their journey ended with a first-round exit.
At the start of this season, head coach Rochelle Vaughn and the staff felt Memorial was poised to take the next step.
Though this was anything but a conventional season, with teams having to contend with an abbreviated non-district slate, as well as multiple delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Warriors persevered and returned to the playoffs for the third consecutive season.
The third time proved to be the charm, as last week, Memorial earned a hard-fought 42-38 victory over Princeton to advance to the second round for the first time in its young history.
The playoffs were put on hold due to the inclement weather that hit the state this week, but the Warriors are scheduled to return to action to meet Lancaster in a Class 5A area round playoff game at 3 p.m. Saturday at Woodrow Wilson.
Earning that first playoff victory was not easy, as Memorial found itself tied with Princeton at halftime before being able to pull it out in the second half behind 20 points from Jasmyn Lott and 16 from Cammie McKinney.
“I remember telling the girls at halftime to breathe and relax,” Vaughn said. “Coach (Devri) Owens gave them inspiration and a great pick-me-up because they were still a little nervous. I was really happy for all the players, but especially the ones who had been in the program since day 1 and last year to finally get that first playoff victory and gold ball, it was a great feeling watching the girls celebrate and cut down the nets.”
The Warriors had plenty of reasons for optimism entering the season with a solid nucleus that included junior captains Jasmyn Lott and Jordan Conerly, and that duo has delivered both on the stat sheet and in their leadership roles. Vaughn called Lott the team’s “heartbeat” and credits Conerly for being the vocal leader of the group.
Memorial also got a huge boost with the addition of junior Cammie McKinney, who transferred from Hebron after helping that program to a pair of playoff berths.
McKinney missed some time early in the season due to injury, but has made an impact from the start, so much so that she is also one of the team’s captains.
“Cammie was a huge surprise for us,” Vaughn said. “She was injured at the start of the season, so it has taken a little bit of time to get everyone on the same page. She gives our team a little bit of swag and confidence. She is another point guard, so it allows us to play two point guards at the same time with her and Jasmyn and I think they give each other relief.”
In addition to that trio, Memorial features a deep roster in which every player fills their role. That includes sophomore forward Carmen Box, who Vaughn called the glue player, and the Warriors have also gotten a spark of energy from a pair of freshmen in Falyn Lott and Brynn Lusby.
Memorial has put together an impressive resume thus far, not just with its 22-5 record, but doing so in one of the toughest districts in the state.
The Warriors are not content to rest on their laurels after picking up their first playoff win, but they also understand the road will get no easier, starting with its tilt against 12-5A champion Lancaster.
“We are preaching and taking the playoffs one game at a time,” Vaughn said. “We believe this team is special and that we have all the tools to make a deep run in the playoffs.”