ALBUQUERQUE — To borrow a line from LeBron James: “Not one, not two, not three …”
Maybe not four, five, six or even seven, if you consider Elida, which won its third straight Class B state championship with a dominant 63-27 win over second-seeded Corona on Friday at The Pit, returns all but two seniors to next year’s ball club.
Reda Allison and Shealton Veo-Chenault graduate, but everyone else returns, including guard Marily Varela, the Tigers’ sophomore sensation who finished with a game-high 19 points and led a 18-0 run that made it 48-17 late in the third quarter.
What Friday’s title game proved more than anything, especially considering how closely seeded these teams were, is just how much of a gulf there is between Elida and everybody else.
There’s a good chance the Tigers will have a dictatorial stranglehold over their classification for the foreseeable future. Corona, the Tigers’ fodder the last two title games, loses four seniors, and no one else warrants early-ballot consideration to threaten Elida’s throne in 2013-14.
“Not in the next two or three years,” Corona head coach Nicky Huey said. “No one’s unbeatable, but Elida’s pretty close to it.”
If anything, it’s that aura of invincibility that could spoil the Tigers’ plans. That’s the biggest thing Elida head coach Dan Howard will guard against in his team’s quest for a rare four-peat.
“The pressure keeps building,” he said. “You gotta keep them humble. (They hear), ‘We’re No. 1’ and all this bull. Well, we take it one game at a time and try to keep focused as best as we can.”
There’s no denying the pomp and braggadocio that comes with being a champion can distract a team, even zap its appetite for success. That, and the weight of the crown gets heavier every year as the target on Elida’s back grows exponentially.
It’s something the Tigers felt this year while chasing history. Elida became the first Class B program to rattle off back-to-back-back championships.
“It is sweeter,” Varela said. “It was hard because everyone expects you to keep the three-peat going. That’s the goal. To get that ‘W’ all the time.”
It builds and builds and builds, and reached a crescendo this year, senior Reda Allison said. Lucky for her, she finished her high school career on the highest of highs.
“I’m relieved that we won,” she said. “I mean, I’m sad that it was my last. But people were saying, ‘Oh, here comes Des Moines. Here comes Corona.’ It was kinda nerve-wracking, but I had faith.”
Which is what Corona had. For all of eight minutes.
“I think they pretty much thought we could play with them,” Huey said, before pausing. “For awhile.”
Perhaps there’s hope on the horizon, with turnover eventually robbing all teams of their talent.
“Nothing against Elida, but they’re going to take a big step down when that group of five or six girls graduate,” Huey said.
Howard will try to compensate for that by working his team out earlier. Next year’s mission has already started.
“The incentive’s there,” Howard said. “We’ll start summer league as soon as school’s out.”