Lady Cards capture holiday classic crown

Published 9:58 am Thursday, December 28, 2023

During the previous two seasons, the George Rogers Clark Lady Cardinals traveled to Lexington Catholic High School the week before Christmas. They returned as White, Greer, & Maggard Holiday Classic tournament champions.

Led by dominant second-half performances and long runs, 2023 would provide GRC fans with just as much to cheer about.

The Lady Cards improved their record to 9-0 on the season and were named White, Greer & Maggard Holiday Classic Tournament Champions for the third consecutive year.

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“It’s always good to win a tournament,” said GRC Lady Cards head coach Robbie Graham. “The setup of the tournament was really good…it [gets] you used to some postseason things that can happen.”

As expected, the tournament brought out some top teams statewide, ensuring that the road to success would be challenging.

In the first contest the Lady Cards played, they took on Anderson County, who also went into the game undefeated with an 8-0 record.

Led by Lainey Johnson, the Lady Bearcats kept the matchup close early, with the Lady Cards leading by only three points at halftime.

However, led by 16 points from Ciara Byars and 18 turnovers forced by a stingy GRC defense, the Lady Cards turned fortunes around in the third quarter as they outscored the Lady Bearcats 18-10 to take an insurmountable 11-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.

The Lady Cards then put the game away, winning by a 61-39 score.

They greatly benefitted from the efforts of Khania Jones, who delivered all ten of there points in the fourth quarter.

One day later, on Saturday, Dec. 23rd, they were back in action bright and early as they took on Frederick Douglass (4-4) beginning at 9:00 a.m.

Though the Lady Cards had defeated the Lady Broncos 80-37 just over a week earlier, the Lady Broncos showed no signs of meeting the same fate early on.

With Niah Rhodes’ 21 points leading the way, the Lady Broncos scored the first four points and flipped the lead back and forth early in the contest.

Yet with the Lady Cards holding just a two-point lead, Anaya Chestnut connected on a three-point basket with less than 30 seconds before halftime.

The shot allowed GRC to take a five-point lead heading into the locker room, their largest of the game to that point.

“It was pretty big for us,” Chestnut stated. “We kind of struggled in the first quarter…trying to set our plays…so that was pretty big.”

In the third quarter, the Lady Cards put together quite possibly their most impressive display thus far this year.

By holding the Lady Broncos scoreless, the team went on a 15-0 run to build a 43-23 lead going into the fourth quarter.

“We tried to be more aggressive defensively, and we kind of focused more on [the] help side,” Chestnut added.

The Lady Cards kept the Lady Broncos from scoring a field goal until almost halfway through the fourth quarter and cruised to a 65-42 victory.

Having moved on to the finals, the Lady Cards faced the Ryle Lady Raiders (7-3), who had defeated Mercy Academy to advance.

GRC emerged strong from the outset, building an 18-3 lead.

“The girls came out ready to play,” Graham said. “They were excited to play.”

Not one to go away quickly, the Lady Raiders responded with a 16-4 run of their own, thanks to the efforts of Quinn Eubank’s 17 total points, to cut the GRC lead to three.

However, an 18-2 response from the Lady Cards to end the first half gave the team a 40-21 halftime advantage.

To start the second half, they continued building momentum.

A 20-1 run built a lead of over 30 points, and the Lady Cards went on to a 79-43 championship-game victory.

“We’re [hoping to] do it every year,” said senior Makili Tabor.

For scoring 47 points across three games, Byars – a junior – was named Tournament MVP.

“It’s just another step in our journey,” Byars said. “I’m just honored…it feels good to win as a team three years in a row.”