Crusaders reverse roles at national level

This year, the roles are reversed.

The Columbus Christian girls basketball team lost in the Indiana Christian State Tournament regional round last season before going on to win the National Association of Christian Athletes Division 5 Tournament. The Crusader boys, meanwhile, won last year’s ICST state tournament and went on to finish second in the NACA event a week later.

While the Columbus Christian boys lost in this year’s regional final and had had a week to prepare for this week’s NACA event, the Crusader girls are coming off the school’s first girls state title on Saturday. Both teams will open NACA play today in Dayton, Tennessee.

“We have definitely grown as a team together, and all of us have gotten a lot better, so I think that is motivating us to hopefully win a national title again,” said senior point guard Macy Wingham, who leads the girls squad with 22.3 points, 4.6 assists and 5.4 steals a game.

Wingham led Columbus Christian (29-3) with 30 points in Saturday’s 53-29 state title game win against Granger Christian.

“I think what’s been great is to see all the excitement on the other girls’ faces and the attitudes and how much we’ve celebrated and reflected on the game,” Wingham said. “It’s been a lot of fun.

Junior Tori Robinson adds 10.8 points and 11.5 rebounds for the Crusaders, who have won 13 in a row. Senior Rachel Warren averages 9.8 points and 7.7 rebounds, and senior Kayleigh Reed chips in 8.3 points.

“Our team has peaked at the perfect time,” Wingham said. “They’re all working hard, they’re playing to the best of their abilities and are really figuring out chemistry on the court and off.”

The Columbus Christian boys, on the other hand, will try to bounce back from a 91-88 overtime loss to Indianapolis Lighthouse in last week’s ICST Regional. Indianapolis Lighthouse went on to win the state title on Saturday.

“It will be nice to get another opportunity to play after that tough loss we had in the regional final,” Columbus Christian coach Kevin Roth said. “I think the loss in the regional will make the kids kind of hungry to get back on the winning ways. Hopefully, we’ll go down and play the way we’re capable of playing.”

“It definitely gives us a chance because we’ve had a week off and got to focus a little bit more,” senior point guard Nick Bridgewater said. “Last year, we were coming off the win and underestimated our opponent at the end. We’ll come in with a different attitude this year.”

Bridgewater leads all five starters in double figures, averaging 14.0 points, 3.6 assists and 2.4 steals. Senior Josh Miracle adds 12.8 points, senior Chris Noblitt chips in 11.1 points, senior Adriane Polley averages 10.7 points and 7.5 rebounds and senior Austin Straub adds 10.6 points.

“A lot of teams that we’ve faced down there in the past have had one real good player, and it’s all based around them,” Roth said. “Our starting five all average in double figures, so we’re a pretty balanced team.”

The Crusaders have finished runner-up in the NACA Tournament twice in the past three years. Last year, they lost in the final by one point in overtime to Community Christian of North Carolina.

“We’re tired of being the bridesmaid,” Roth said. “We’d like to win it this year.”

“We lost a couple of guys (from last season), but we’ve gotten a lot better,” Nick Bridgewater said. “We need to play as a team and do what we’ve been doing all year.”

Today’s games will be “position games,” meaning results will determine seedings for the main brackets. So teams who lose today, will still be alive in the tournament.

The Columbus Christian boys play Carolina Christian from Asheville, North Carolina, at 10 a.m. today in a game that will be live-streamed at fbc-naca.com. The Crusader girls will play Shenandoah Valley from Steven City, Virginia, at 1 p.m. today.

“We have a target on our backs this year,” Columbus Christian girls coach Ron Bridgewater said. “We’re not going to sneak up on anybody like we did. Certainly, people are going to know who we are. We have everybody back, and we’re even better this year than we were last year. I think we are the team to beat, but we still have to go down there and play.”

At a glance

What: National Association of Christian Athletes Tournament

When: Today through Saturday

Where: Dayton, Tennessee

Local teams: Columbus Christian boys and girls

Live streaming: All games played in the main gym will be live-streamed at fbc-naca.com.

Author photo
Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.