Published March 21, 2019
ATLANTA—As the 2018-2019 Catholic Metro League of Atlanta (CMLA) basketball season was about to get underway, two eighth-grade girls’ basketball teams, Christ the King and Our Lady of the Assumption, struggled to draw enough players for their final juncture as middle school ballers.
Many of these female athletes had played against each other in multiple sports since the third grade. After some dialogue and effort on the part of a few parents, the two schools merged to form one team under the name “OLA Bobcats.” The regular season roster included seven girls from Our Lady of the Assumption and four from Christ the King. Jim Trupiano, coaching for his sixth CMLA season, served as the head coach, and Ray Peebles was the assistant coach.
The OLA girls finished the CMLA regular season in first place with a record of eight wins and one loss. They also advanced to the championship game against Johns Creek’s St. Brigid. In the championship game, OLA was up by 10 points with five minutes remaining in the game, but they lost the lead and the game in the process. Coach Trupiano said the girls learned what happens in life when you get too comfortable and lose sight of your goals.
The team had one more chance to play together in a Catholic league basketball tournament in Charlotte, North Carolina, Feb. 22-24. The 57-year-old Shamrock Tournament is designed to allow eighth-grade Catholic school basketball teams to compete and cap off the end to a senior year season. For the last seven years, the Diocese of Charlotte’s Holy Trinity Middle School has hosted the tournament, and this year it had more than 80 teams competing from five different states.
The OLA tournament roster included five girls from Our Lady of the Assumption and three from Christ the King. It’s a very competitive, single-elimination tournament, so everyone’s expectations were somewhat tame. The OLA team had to face teams with twice as many players and intrastate opponents with a sizable fan base. They ended up winning their first three games by double-digit margins against teams from Salisbury, Raleigh and Charlotte.
In the semifinal game against the host team, Holy Trinity, the OLA Bobcats found themselves down 12-0 at the start and 20-4 at the end of the first period. The OLA team’s tallest player was five-feet-eight inches. Most of their opponent’s scoring came from a 14-year-old center, who stood six-feet-two inches tall. She had 14 first-half points and Holy Trinity held an eight-point lead at halftime.
The OLA team listened to their coaches over the break, but they also offered a suggestion for a second-half defensive change. The girls asked if they could switch from 3-2 zone to a 2-3 zone, so they could provide more resistance to the Holy Trinity center. This time around the girls had no intention of losing sight of their goal, and as a consequence their defense stepped up, limiting their opponent’s star player to four second-half points, and ultimately a 47-34 win for OLA.
Coach Trupiano said the team fought valiantly in the championship game, but they were overmatched against seven-time tournament winner, St. Pius X School of Greensboro, North Carolina. St. Pius X prevailed 47-25. With a short bench, playing five games in less than 48 hours was a lot for only eight girls. The combined team of Our Lady of the Assumption and Christ the King girls played hard and gave their best effort, so finishing second place in a very spirited tournament was not a disappointment.
The Shamrock Tournament capped off a great season for the girls to remember. Overall, they racked up 14 wins and 3 losses, including 2 championship runs, but more importantly they formed a lasting sisterhood, they learned how to push pass obstacles on the way to victory and lose with humility. Both parishes could not be prouder.
Michael Alexander of The Georgia Bulletin contributed to this report.