After getting an appetizer of the state tournament last year, this season the Lady Crimsons of Manual are eating away at the competition in hopes to get the dessert of yet another Sweet 16 appearance. The cherry on top would be a season capped with a championship.
The last time Manual won the seventh region was in the 2012-13 sean. That was one season before Coach Jeff Sparks took over as head coach and before Tonysha Curry became a part of the program. Since then, they have been among one of the top teams in the region, and so far, things have remained the same.
They’ve chalked up 10 wins to only one loss so far, with that loss coming at the hands of defending state champion Butler. But in their victories – having given up an average of 31.8 points in those wins – Manual has put together a strong campaign that earns them the right to be in discussion as a potential seventh region champion for the second consecutive year.
“I think we are off to a good start,” says Sparks. “We are doing some things well and we have some good kids. We have a solid core coming back, and it’s been some new faces in the freshmen so we got some kids to bring along. So, in each game, we have been able to win with a [nice] margin, but our schedule is going to change here soon and we will have some stiffer competition. So we will see where we are.”
A rigid schedule will help, but this team is motivated by getting to the state tournament last season, only to result in an early exit. The experience from the Sweet 16 tourney has spilled over into this year, as the girls are a step quicker, stronger and smarter.
Sparks says a state run last season “helped these returning players believe that was actually possible, having gone through it and getting that experience. We say that was a lot of fun and would love to experience that again, but it’s not just going to happen. We’ve got to go make it happen because there are a lot of really good teams in this region and we’re going to have to play our best.”
Maybe going to the Sweet 16 was a bittersweet moment for Sparks, considering he used to coach at archrival Male. They beat them last season in the regional championship after avenging a loss to the Lady Bulldogs in the regular season. But I’m sure past feelings had to be put to the side now that he coaches a group of girls who’ve been immersed in a Manual culture that unapologetically views Male as the ultimate team to defeat.
Oh, how the beauty of a rivalry never disappoints, as yet again, both teams sit atop the seventh region. This time around, senior Tonysha Curry would love to bury not only the lady Bulldogs but every opponent standing in her way in her farewell season. And she’s come to grips in knowing her leadership will make all the difference.
“I try not to cloud my mind with so many things, but the main thing on my shoulders is leadership,” says Curry. “Leadership in practice, leadership on the court and leadership when games are close – that doesn’t have to be me taking the ball and going one-on-one all the time but putting people in position so they can be successful. So, leadership is big on my shoulders this year.”
Sparks says he finds leverage in Curry’s strong and versatile play, as he looks to use that as a maximum advantage versus their opponents. The senior sensation has mirrored her game after WNBA star Maya Moore: “I look a lot at Maya Moore. I love her physical build, I love her intensity of the game and I love her demeanor. She is an amazing scorer, but she impacts the game in so many other ways, like her presence.”
In knowing Manual has a young roster this year, Curry sets aside personal accolades in efforts to achieve overall team goals. She says it will take an aggressive mentality as the Lady Crimsons look to surge back to the state tournament.
“We aren’t even favored to win in our region,” she adds. “So we just have to know that we are no one’s favorite so we can never go into a game thinking we got this. We aren’t anyone’s favorite to win anything.”
Perhaps that’s the main inducement that drives Manual to yet another remarkable season. VT