After three straight trips to the finals of the Catawba Valley Classic and two runner-up finishes, the Newton-Conover girls' basketball team broke the barrier on the fourth try.
Newton-Conover jumped out to a 16-4 lead against Fred T. Foard and never looked back. The Lady Red Devils earned their third Catawba Valley Classic tournament title with a win over the Lady Tigers.
"This shows our growth as a team," said N-C's Shynese Whitener. "We have been playing together for a couple of years now. We have been working on this for a good while now."
Lady Red Devils coach Jonathan Tharpe said Thursday's win shows the team's dedication.
"For them to do all the things they do in the off-season, summer and preseason," Tharpe said, "all of those things help lead to championships. For this group to go out a champion around Christmas time, it speaks volumes to all the hard work they have done."
Whitener led the charge early for Newton-Conover, as her team jumped out to a 16-4 lead in the first 4 minutes of the first quarter.
Whitener scored 12 points in the first half, and Quazzy Tipps added 10 points.
Equally impressive was the defensive effort by the Lady Red Devils. They limited Fred T. Foard to single-digit points in the first two quarters.
"Defense is our key," Tharpe said. "Our defense leads to easy transition offense. I was happy with how we were getting into the passing lanes and moving our feet."
The Lady Tigers tried to fight in the second half, but Newton-Conover continued to score. They outscored Fred T. Foard in the third quarter, 24-11.
Whitener, who scored 23 points in a win against rival Hickory on Wednesday, finished with 16 points in the game. She was awarded the tournament's Most Valuable Player honor for her efforts.
"I feel honored to receive the award," Whitener said. "I wasn't expecting it. I just went out there and played my game. My teammates were a big part of that. They helped me and pushed me when things got tough."
Tharpe was pleased with not only Whitener's performance in the tournament, but how far she came in her career and life.
"Shynese has dedicated herself to the weight room and has gotten stronger," Tharpe said. "She continues to work on her fundamental skills. From the beginning of the season, she has matured as a basketball player and a young lady. This tournament really showcased how far she has come since she was a freshman."
Teammates Kadesha Gibbs and Samiya Pitts, along with Whitener, were named to the Catawba Valley Classic All-Tournament Team. They were joined by Fred T. Foard players Tonya Propst and Chelsea Turner.
As for a win like this heading into the second part of the season, Whitener feels the need to continue to prepare.
"We are just looking to get better," Whitener said. "We work hard every practice. We take every game serious no matter who the team is."