Girls basketball finishes State Runner-Up

Senior co-captain Briaiah Lewis carries the ball up the court and calls a play for the Knights. This was Midtown basketballs first ever appearance in a State Championship. The Knights ended their season runner-up to Maynard Jackson, losing 58-44.
Senior co-captain Briaiah Lewis carries the ball up the court and calls a play for the Knights. This was Midtown basketball’s first ever appearance in a State Championship. The Knights ended their season runner-up to Maynard Jackson, losing 58-44.
Farris Duwayri

In a thrilling display of determination and skill, the girls basketball team exceeded expectations and etched their names into the annals of Midtown basketball history. With their remarkable journey to the finals of the GHSA 5A State Championship game, this once-undervalued team has captured the hearts of Midtown students and faculty, rewriting the narrative of what it means to chase greatness on the court.

The team rounded out its season in the Championship, losing to region rival Maynard Jackson 58-44. The State Championship appearance was the first in Midtown or Grady girls basketball history. 

This was achieved after a 27-6 season with a 15-3 region record, and dominating performances in the state playoffs in which the Knights won the first three rounds by more than 20 points each. They triumphed over Loganville with a score of 60-33 in the initial round, followed by a 69-48 win against Greater Atlanta Christian in round two, and a 58-37 victory over Jones County in round three.

“It is kind of discouraging when you work as hard as we work and then you don’t win,” head coach Martravious Little said. “So it’s always a great feeling when you know you’re putting in maximum effort, when you know every day you come to the gym you’re grinding. And then to see the results pay off, the winning feeling is amazing.”

The Knights and Jackson have had a long rival history. Since Midtown switched from classification 4A to 5A after the 2015-2016 season, Midtown has played Jackson 19 times, and has never beaten the Jaguars. Of the 19 games, the Knights played Jackson four times this season, losing all four by less than 15 points, including the regular season finale 61-58. 

“We’ve just been in the same region for so long, and we’re in such close proximity to them that some of us play with or against them in AAU, so that makes us want to beat them even more,” junior co-captain Sinclair Richman said. “We haven’t beaten them, so that really pushes us to try and get better and be more successful. I think they really motivate us to be as good as we could possibly be.”

Sophomore Devin Bockman sets up to defend a Maynard player during one of the Knights full court press plays. (Ellie Palaian)

Ending the season in the Elite Eight with a 73-63 loss to Warner Robins last season, coaches and players came into this season confident and motivated to get through the round of eight. With the return of Little and assistant coach O’Neisha Smith, bolstered by the addition of seasoned assistant coach Khaalidah Miller and a roster composed entirely of returning players, the Knights seemed equipped for success. 

“I looked at them after we lost in the Elite Eight and I said, ‘we will be back, so remember this feeling,’” Little said. “That showed their work ethic, that attested to how hard they worked this year to show that they deserve to be back. And basically, I feel the exact same way about what happened [in the Championship]. Although we made it to the State Championship and fell short, I looked at them again and said, ‘remember this feeling.’ Because we’ll get back.”

Smith shares similar sentiments with Little, sensing the team’s strong desire to win this season.

“We were hungry,” Smith said. “We were definitely hungry to surpass the Elite Eight, but also I feel as if we truly believed that we were capable of being champions, and that can’t be taught, it has to be in you. So, the girls actually bought into the system and took ownership because they’re the ones that play, the ones that are on the floor; they’re the ones putting in the work. Honestly, the girls developed a championship mindset and carried themselves as if they were one of the best teams in 5A basketball, and having that confidence is what surpassed us past the Elite Eight and got us to the championship.”

The Knights huddle up before making their first ever appearance in the GHSA 5A State Championship. (Ellie Palaian)

The Knights’ strength this season stemmed from their team chemistry. With no seniors graduating last year, many of the girls have had the opportunity to bond and forge relationships over two full seasons.

“I’ve never played with girls who love each other so much,” Lewis said. “A lot of people don’t understand, when we say that, how much we mean it. Those are my sisters; those are my best friends. Coach KM literally told us at practice, she said, ‘she was jealous of our bond because it was something she didn’t have in high school.’ She never had teammates that were willing to work as hard as her. She was jealous because we have teammates that will push you to be better.” 

Lewis credits a significant portion of the team’s success to its chemistry on and off the court.

“We had the best chemistry of any team that I’ve ever seen or been on,” Lewis said. “We enjoyed each other, and you just couldn’t stop one of us. I mean truly, honestly, we have five great people in five positions; most teams only have two, if you’re a good team, so the fact that we have five people that could play offense and defense means that no team could really match up with us.”

Over the last two seasons, the Knights’ team has been predominantly underclassmen, to the extent that in the previous season, there were no seniors on the roster. This season, there are two seniors listed, with only one consistently starting. The starting lineup consists of senior co-captain Lewis, juniors Cate Barton and co-captain Richman, along with sophomores Devin Bockman and Hailey Wortmann.

“To have such a young team helped in the sense that we were returning everybody,” Little said. “It helped in the sense of energy. The disadvantage to it is our depth was not as deep as I wanted it to be. But the positive side to that is now that the athletes that may have not gotten a lot of minutes this year, they’ve been in the system and now they understand what it takes.”

Despite their youthful roster, the Knights consistently delivered stellar performances throughout the season, playing a pivotal role in the team’s success. Barton dominated the boards with an average of 9 rebounds per game, while Lewis orchestrated the offense with 4.9 assists per game. Richman demonstrated her proficiency from beyond the three-point line, tallying 79 successful three-point shots. Wortmann showcased efficiency with a field goal percentage of 58% and 13 double-doubles. Bockman emerged as the top scorer, averaging 14.9 points per game, and her standout performance in the State Championship saw her contribute 23 points to the Knights’ total of 44.  

“I honestly think I was able to have such an explosive game just because it was the last game of the season,” Bockman said. “After that game, that was it, and we were playing for a State Championship, so I had no other choice but to put everything on the line.”

Bockman takes the ball up the court. Bockman had a total of 432 points this season, and was the Knights leading scorer, averaging 14.9 points per game. (Farris Duwayri)

Smith acknowledges the significant contributions of the team captains this season, while also highlighting the invaluable efforts of the girls without formal leadership roles.

“The captains did a great job with keeping us focused, keeping us locked-in and just keeping us together because that’s what we needed,” Smith said. “In regards to our players that were not specifically captains, Devin, being a sophomore, she definitely led us in different ways. Even though she’s not vocal just by her work ethic, and that’s what she displays. So, on top of our captains being who they are, we have other players that are leading on the floor. That combined is what really helped us get through this whole road to the State Championship.”

Lewis, who has played varsity all four years, knew the potential this team had going into the season. 

“With a full returning roster, I knew that we could easily build off of our Elite Eight run last season,” Lewis said. “From our first few practices, I could feel the potential, and I quickly came to the realization that we were not just a team this season, we were a force to be reckoned with.”

Lewis has a deep history with Midtown basketball. Her two older sisters, Jade Lewis and Trinity Lewis, played varsity all four years; one of her younger brothers, Dhati Lewis Jr., played varsity this year, and her father, Dhati Lewis, even coached alongside former coach Roderick Hill for three seasons between 2017 and 2020. Lewis is proud to have finally seen Midtown basketball come into its true potential. 

“I have watched and played a lot of Midtown basketball,” Lewis said. “I have played under two different head coaches, and with a countless number of players, but I can confidently say that this season and this team has been one of the best and most fun experiences of my basketball career.”

Lewis instructs her teammates on the court. Lewis lead the Knights in assists, averaging 4.9 per game this season. (Ellie Palaian)

In addition to the starting five, the remainder of the roster has made notable contributions this season. Richman acknowledges their efforts and the impact they have had on the team’s performance.

“One of the things that propelled us this far is some of the people coming off of the bench,” Richman said. “We have some really talented players that might not get to start, but when they come off the bench, they make an impact, which is really important, especially in games where we’re struggling with foul trouble.”

Within his two years at Midtown, Little has led two historic seasons, one ending in the Elite Eight and the other in the State Championship, something only few other Midtown coaches have accomplished. 

“It’s surreal,” Little said. “I was disappointed after losing State, but I had someone that was close to me say ‘some coaches work their whole lives, 20 years until retirement, and never get an opportunity to play for a State Championship.’ So that was surreal to me, and I told my team, looking at these two years, we are 49-15, which is amazing.”

Throughout both seasons, Smith has been alongside Little. She has been an integral part of the team for three years, initially coaching alongside former head coach Dana Smith. Smith acknowledges the talent within Midtown and takes pride in witnessing the team’s remarkable progress.

“It’s just such an amazing opportunity to be a part of that growth,” Smith said. “To see where we came from when I first started coaching at Midtown to [the State Championship], it’s tremendous growth, and I’m honored to actually be a part of that. Just seeing them mature mentally, and then of course, seeing their game develop over time, it’s just an amazing site for sure.”

Miller, the latest addition to the Knights’ coaching staff, undeniably made a significant impact on the team this year. With a remarkable collegiate background and two State Championships as a coach at Douglass High School, Miller brought her expertise to Midtown and Richman believes she played a pivotal role in the Knights’ success this season.

“Coach KM has played at all levels and been successful at all levels,” Richman said. “She understands what it takes to get to the next level, and she pushes us to make sure we’re working to get there. She’s also coached her way to a championship, so she knows what it takes in that aspect, as well.”

Smith expresses gratitude for the opportunity to coach alongside other seasoned coaches, believing that their collective efforts have truly facilitated the team’s development.

“You have a coaching staff who’s all played at the college level, and so I think just all our thoughts combined just breeds success,” Smith said. “We all know what it takes, the hard work that goes into it. So, I think just us collaborating, and being able to give our insights was probably one of the best things for us. We were able to bounce ideas off of each other and then just kind of have confidence in each other because we’ve all been there.”

Head coach Martravious Little diligently watches the game from the sidelines. This is Little’s second season as head coach of the Knights. (Farris Duwayri)

Richman is thankful for the talent and experience that the Knights’ coaching staff brings to the game, acknowledging their significant contribution to the team’s success this season.

“They all know what it takes to succeed in basketball, and they really pushed us to do everything it took to be successful,” Richman said. “I think them all having a lot of experience pushed us to try and replicate their success so we were paying really close attention and trying to mimic what they did in order to be the best team we could possibly be.”

Overall, Lewis is proud of what the team accomplished this season and is happy to have ended her high school career in the State Championship. 

“If someone had asked me my freshman or sophomore year, or told me that I would be [in the State Championship] my senior year, I would’ve laughed in their face,” Lewis said. “It wasn’t in my wildest dreams to make it this far. I never allowed myself to dream so big, and for me it was just like a moment of ‘wow, it’s okay to dream big, and it’s okay to want more than you think possible.’”

Smith is hopeful and excited for next season, and is ready for the girls to finally get a championship ring. 

“I think the expectation is that we’re going to get back there,” Smith said. “We’ve experienced it; we know what it takes, so now it’s back to the grind. I don’t think it’s going to be as big of a shock because we’re immune to it now. We’re immune to winning, immune to competing. So, it’s just a matter of us getting back to the grind, and just knowing and understanding what it’s going to take. It’s going to take hard work; it’s going to take sacrifice, dedication, and it’s going to take tears for us to get back there. So, I’m actually pretty excited to kind of get back to work.”

Despite the State Championship’s outcome, Little remains focused on acknowledging all that the team achieved throughout the season and encourages his players to do the same.

“Of course, we wanted the State Championship, but we can’t discredit the fact that those girls made history this year,” Little said. “1986 was the only other Final Four appearance, and now those girls have the right to say that they’ve been the only team in Midtown history to make a State Championship appearance. So, that’s something that we can’t take away from.”

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About the Contributors
Ellie Palaian
Ellie Palaian, Sports Managing Editor
Ellie Palaian is a senior and this is her third year on staff for The Southerner. She plays varsity soccer for Midtown High and is excited to write for the paper this year.
Farris Duwayri
Farris Duwayri, News Associate Managing Editor
Farris Duwayri is a junior and this is his third year on the staff. He enjoys playing Midtown's football team and debate team. He likes cars and hanging out with friends

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