With two state titles and a runner-up finish the last three years, Cullman Christian’s varsity girls basketball team has come to expect its opponents’ best each and every ballgame.
That’s exactly what the Lions got from Cornerstone Christian in Saturday’s Alabama Christian Education Athletic Association Division II championship, but Cullman Christian’s best was still good enough to clinch the state crown with a 44-39 triumph.
“Cornerstone did everything they needed to do today,” Lions’ coach Jason White said. “They made us play ugly. I give a lot of credit to them, but when they had to, my girls picked it up.”
Cullman Christian has had a penchant for blowing out most of its opponents over the last four seasons, but the Cougars came prepared to avoid the same fate.
They immediately took the Lions out of rhythm by employing a box-and-one defense on standout Haley White, whom the squad’s offense usually runs through. Cornerstone also created problems for Cullman Christian by forcing Yancey York into early foul trouble. The star center picked up four fouls by halftime, and the Lions entered the locker room with a slim 20-18 lead.
As she’s done her entire prep career, White stepped up when her team needed it most, taking over at point guard — a position she hadn’t played all season — in the second half. The move made a difference, opening up numerous opportunities in the paint for York when she returned midway through the third quarter.
“They did what seniors do,” Coach White said of the duo. “They stepped up, led and made the plays that had to be made.”
The Lions increased their lead to as many as eight in the fourth quarter but gave the Cougars enough breaks to hang around. Jordan Canaday came through in the clutch with a few timely free throws, however, to keep Cullman Christian on top for good.
“Our free throws weren’t very good this year, but they hit enough at the end to keep them up,” White said. “Our girls gutted it out, and I could not be any prouder of them. They’re great ballplayers, but at the end of the day, they’re just great Christian girls.”
Haley White capped off a Tournament MVP-worthy two-day peformance with eight points, six steals and two assists, while York was an obvious selection for the All-Tournament team with a massive double-double of 21 points and 15 rebounds, not to mention her seven steals.
The duo’s statistics on Saturday put White’s career point total at 954 and York’s career rebound total at 915.
Other Lion contributors were Canaday, seven points; Louanne Stillwell, three points and six rebounds; Christine Aldijaili, two points and nine rebounds; and Eliza Siegenthaler, eight rebounds and three steals.
Saturday marked the end of an era for four Cullman Christian seniors — White, York, Stillwell and Siegenthaler — who were starters on the varsity squad all four years at the prep level. Over that time, the quartet won three of four state titles and claimed an astounding 9-1 playoff record.
“They are just a super bunch of girls that love to play ball, love to play together and are just really good,” Coach White said. “There’s no question they’ll be missed next year.”
The championship put the finishing touches on an excellent academic year for the Lions’ girls athletic program. Many of the same girls who were on the court Saturday helped the volleyball squad earn a runner-up result during the fall.
“Two state finals in one year is just amazing,” the coach said.
Cullman Christian’s junior varsity boys brought the school its second state title of the day with a 39-37 victory over Cornerstone. The Lions’ varsity boys will make their run at the championship next week.
% The Times’ sports editor Rob Ketcham contributed to this report.