MANSFIELD – The North Central Texas Academy girls basketball team had to overcome more than just two opponents over the weekend – making their fourth straight Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) state basketball title even more impressive.
Then the boys team ramped up the celebration, giving the school dual championships. It was the first state basketball title for the NCTA boys.
NCTA (formerly Happy Hill) is off Highway 144 about halfway between Granbury and Glen Rose.
Both of NCTA’s head coaches are in their first year in that role with the school.
Jodie Stevens, who previously coached at Sidney and Gustine, led the Lady Pioneers to a 23-5 campaign, winning their last 17 in a row. They were No. 17 in the most recent TAPPS state rankings.
Tammy Evans, now at Arlington Grace Prep School, guided the Lady Pioneers to the first two titles of their run. Last year’s championship was won with Emily Britt, now an assistant at Granbury High School, as head coach. During that four-year title span, the Lady Pioneers have amassed a record of 102-15 since the girls program was reinstated under Evans.
And for NCTA athletic director and football coach Kirby Rasco, it was his first campaign as the boys basketball coach. His Pioneers finished the season on a 22-game win streak. They entered the tournament at No. 23 in the TAPPS rankings.
Three key starters for the Lady Pioneers had been sick for a few days before the tournament, and leading scorer and rebounder Carolina Bianchi had been bedridden with strep throat and flu symptoms.
Bianchi, a senior post, overcame the illnesses to turn in two impressive performances – and earn the title of Most Valuable Player on the girls all-tournament team. Teammates Jenny Chinn and Esther Udonsi also made the all-tournament team.
The Lady Pioneers posted a tense 44-42 triumph over Plainview Christian Friday in the semifinal round, then won the title game over Fredericksburg Heritage School 61-43 Saturday.
Bianchi said she was drained from the physical challenges.
“I’m very happy,” Bianchi said after the championship game. “For three days, I was very sick. God is wonderful. Last night, I didn’t have energy.”
Stevens said Bianchi had a fever of 102 Thursday.
Udonsi also had her own physical problems with a throat issue.
“It made me really tired,” Udonsi said. “I was dragging on the court.”
The boys team rebounded from an 0-2 start to finish 22-2 on the season.
Rasco said it took “lots of hard work” by the players to mesh together.
“It’s incredible,” Rasco said. “We had some of the best kids to work with, and they worked hard. Most of them live together, and have to get along.”
Two new players on the boys team, Stefan Rosic and Marvin Ivanovic, are from Serbia. In the 53-37 semifinal win over Lubbock Christian Prep, Rosic scored 24 points and Ivanovic added 15. Both made the boys all-tournament team, along with Raphael Rohlfs, a junior guard.
“It’s a really big thing for me,” said Ivanovic, who is 6-5. “Our team spirit was so good, and we played like a true team. We put our hearts on the court and did our best.”
Ivanovic said he and Rosic were from the same city in Serbia, and they have known each other since kindergarten. In fact, he said, they are best friends – making the combined effort even sweeter for them.
“There’s nothing better in the world than that,” Ivanovic said.
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