PHOENIX — Emotions will be running high inside Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Tuesday evening when the girls 5A state championship tips off. In a rematch of last year’s championship game, the top-ranked Flowing Wells Lady Caballeros will take on the No. 3 Millennium Tigers as both have huge motivational factors driving their fight.
The Millennium Tigers, led by second-year coach Kevin Thomas, will be in search of their fourth consecutive title as their grip on basketball in the Valley holds strong. Meanwhile, for long-time coach Michael Perkins and the Lady Caballeros, the loss in last year’s championship game has been in the back of everyone’s mind as they’ve pushed themselves all season in an effort to shake up the scene.
While Flowing Wells is at 18-0 (in games recognized by the Arizona Interscholastic Association), the Lady Caballeros had a tough slate of games this year. It doesn’t show on their record, but a loss to Gilbert Perry during tournament play back in November was a learning experience for the them, helping them prepare for gritty games later on.
In the semifinal match, Flowing Wells (29-1 overall in games including in-season tournaments that are not recognized by the AIA) was down early to Gilbert ast week before battling back to take the lead and get the win.
However, things haven’t been quite as easy for Millennium. The Tigers have had a grueling slate of games, including two big-time national tournaments, and two games against their new rivals at Sunrise Mountain. Thomas said the losses they were handed earlier in the season helped them continue learning and improving, which was how they were able to outlast No. 2 Sunrise Mountain in the semifinals and pull off the win.
— Lady Cabs Basketball (@LadyCabsBBall) March 1, 2022
In the last five years, the only meeting between Flowing Wells and Millennium was the 2021 Class 5A state championship. With no chance to see each other in the months since, it will be interesting to see how things shake out when the teams take the court.
Flowing Wells has been under the direction of Perkins for nearly two decades, during which time he’s coached the Lady Caballeros to three other championships. Ultimately falling short each time, the Lady Caballeros are hungry to finally bring a title to their community for all those before them.
Millennium has long been considered the 5A kingpin, with both the boys and the girls running the table for years. Not only will Millennium be looking for its fourth straight title, but it will be making its sixth championship appearance in the last seven years.
What to expect
Millennium is not quite the powerhouse it was in years past, but the Tigers still have a loaded roster of talent who’ve shown the ability to come through when it matters most.
It’s been a stellar year for sophomore Ellie Guiney, who is Millennium’s leading scorer. While she may be young, Guiney’s experience from last year’s run has prepared her for the intensity and pressure of what comes with a big-time game. Not only is she a strong shooter, but she also does a great job of boxing out to get rebounds and creating plays.
Finding a way to stop Guiney will be key for the Lady Caballeros, as she’s incredibly dangerous when she’s able to get into the zone.
Senior and future Sun Devil Trayanna Crisp will likely be the biggest x-factor on the night for the Tigers. Even when she’s not shooting well, Crisp still makes an effort to impact the game in other areas to help contribute in any way possible. Flowing Wells will need to be mindful of Crisp at all times, as she’s great at causing disruption to an offense.
Millennium doesn’t have as much size as Flowing Wells, so it’s going to be essential for the Tigers to move the ball around to create open shots.
From Flowing Wells
The Lady Caballeros took noticeable strides of improvement during the off-season coming into this year, returning a large number of players from last year’s team. With so many players a part of the crushing loss last year to close out the season, it’s personal for them.
Junior Leamsi Acuña has been absolutely explosive all year, leading the team in stats nearly across the board. Not only has she shown her ability to shoot the ball, but she also brings an extra level of intensity to the court for the Lady Caballeros to keep opponents on their toes.
Right beside Acuña all year long has been Navine Mallon. Like Acuña, Mallon is a strong shooter and has a high basketball IQ. When these two get going, it doesn’t matter when defenses try to spread the floor because the Lady Cabs are hard to stop.
It’s likely going to come down to how well Flowing Wells is able to utilize its size inside. Sydney Lomeli-Capen is dangerous in the post, as she displayed in the win against Gilbert in the semifinals, and does a great job of tracking the ball to crash the boards.
Brittany Bowyer is a freelance journalist who started her career as an intern for a small sports website back in 2015. Since then, she’s obtained her master’s degree in Sports Journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at ASU and is in her fourth year of covering various levels of sports across a broad range of platforms in Arizona. You can follow her on twitter @bbowyer07