Champions again! GHS girls make it three-in-a-row!

Champions again! GHS girls make it three-in-a-row!

Photos By: Peggy Barger

The Greenwood Lady Bulldogs are state champions once again! Head Coach Clay Reeves and his players have pulled off the nearly impossible feat of winning a state title three years running (2022-24). It’s been done before, of course, and not just in girls’ basketball. In fact, it’s been done at Greenwood in football, not once but twice between 2005-07 and 2010-12. Other schools have also done it over the years, but it is a rare feat, nonetheless.

The GHS girls, led by senior starters Anna Trusty, Brooklyn Woolsey, and Carley Sexton, ably supported by junior Izzy Smith and sophomore Kylah Pearcy, steamrolled their way through the regular season schedule and the postseason tournament field to finish with a record of 28-4, winning their last 14 games, mostly by huge point margins. Last Friday the Lady Bulldogs defeated Vilonia in the state finals, 77-51, held at Bank OZK Arena in Hot Springs. A week earlier they reached the finals by beating Sheridan, Searcy, and Lake Hamilton in the state tournament held at Searcy High School (see related article).

By completing their three-peat, the GHS girls won their eighth state title, all within the past two decades under Coach Reeves, who notched his 11th title overall, including three at Greenland prior to his arrival at Greenwood in 2002. It was also Greenwood High School’s fourth state championship won during this current academic/athletic year. It started last November with the girls’ cross country team and the football team in early December. The cheer team also earned a state championship earlier this calendar year and now the girls’ basketball program. It might be wishful thinking, but the GHS baseball and softball programs also usually compete for a chance to play for a state championship each spring, while both soccer teams are expected to have solid seasons as well. Greenwood has won over 60 state titles in the last 25 years.

On Friday, the Lady Bulldogs got off to a quick start, leading 11-3 less than three minutes into the game, and continued to lead by double-digits after one period, 27-15. The Greenwood ladies hit an amazing percentage of their shots in the first half, including five-for-seven from beyond the three-point arc in the first quarter, led by senior Brooklyn Woolsey with 11 points. There were no lead changes in the game as the Lady Bulldogs led from start to finish.

The Lady Eagles struggled to keep themselves in the contest in the first half, with Greenwood answering every Vilonia run. Offensively, the GHS girls went into the break shooting 64%, led by Brooklyn Woolsey’s 13 points and Izzy Smith’s 10 points. Defensively, Greenwood had forced 10 Vilonia turnovers and turned many of those into points on the other end of the court. The Lady Bulldogs held a 44-29 advantage at the intermission.

Vilonia scored the first six points of the third quarter, prompting the first of two quick timeouts called by Coach Reeves. His Lady Bulldogs missed their first three shots and committed a pair of turnovers and a foul before order was restored. Greenwood then responded with a 17-8 scoring run to close out the period, leading 61-43. Brooklyn Woolsey continued to pace the Lady Bulldogs offensively with 21 points through 24 minutes. Kylah Pearcy had 18 points but fouled out of the game midway through the fourth quarter.

Halfway through the final stanza, the GHS ladies had cooled off a bit offensively, but were still shooting well over 50% from the floor overall and more than 40% from three-point range. Over the final five minutes the Lady Bulldogs seized complete control of the game, boosting a 13-point lead to more than 20 points, as the Lady Eagles surrendered to the inevitable.

Brooklyn Woolsey closed out her final game with Greenwood High School as the team’s leading scorer with 21 points, followed by Kylah Pearcy’s 18 points. Anna Trusty also scored 18 points, completing her four-year GHS career as the school’s all-time leading scorer with over 1,900 points. Trusty also received the most valuable player award for the entire 5A state tournament. Izzy Smith finished the game with 12 points and Carly Sexton had six points.

In a special moment that could not have worked out better, senior reserve McKenzie Thomas came off the bench late and scored two points on a baseline jumper in her last high school appearance. The ball bounced around the iron three times before dropping through the net for the last two points of the game. Other reserves who saw time in the final minutes included juniors Pate Jones, Piper Pitts, Jenna Honkala, and sophomore Journey Clements.

Postgame Comments

After the game, Coach Reeves spoke with members of the broadcast and print media, as did some of his players, including Anna Trusty, who has several college offers but has yet to announce a decision concerning her basketball future. Fellow seniors Brooklyn Woolsey (Henderson State) and Carly Sexton (John Brown University) will also play collegiate basketball.

“I thought our [team] came to play,” said Reeves. “They played great. They played a really good first half.” Greenwood performed so well in the first half of Friday's championship game that the coach admitted to something he never does. “It's probably the first time I ever went in at halftime and said, 'Y'all played a good first half,’" he said during the postgame press event, looking at his three starting seniors seated next to him in the media room.

“Am I right?” he asked jokingly. “And I [sat] down at halftime and talked to them too, which has never happened either.” But the coach also told them that despite a 15-point lead and a torrid first half shooting the ball, there was still work to do in the second half. And the Lady Bulldogs must have listened, because after a brief struggle early in the third quarter, they took care of business the rest of the way. “[They are] great kids to coach, and they always work hard,” said Reeves. “They’re always here, [and] they put up with me coaching them” the coach said with a laugh.

Immediately after the victory, he talked with the two PBS television announcers on the sideline. “I feel great,” he said when asked to express his feelings after winning his eighth championship at Greenwood. “I believe in these young ladies, and they’ve played great all year. I told them to just come out and play like we always do. That’s how much confidence I have in them and the things they can do. And they came out and played like we played most every night.”

Regarding his team’s defensive performance, Reeves said, “I’ve got smart [players] and they figure out stuff really quick. They understand who needs guarding and where we need to be guarding. I’m just blessed to have a great group of kids. They’re just smart, great people. All our other players [also] stepped up at different times. This is a great team.”

Speaking briefly with the Dog Pound’s Tim Terry, the radio and live stream voice of the Bulldogs and Lady Bulldogs, Reeves said, “I’m just blessed to have so many great players over the years and this year. They’re smart and they work hard, and they just fought all year. At times adversity hit us and they overcame it. We’ve got great kids and great support from the school and community, the booster club, and the administration. It’s a great job and the best school district in the state.”

Asked about the unselfish nature of his five starters who played almost the entire game, Reeves said, “I didn’t go into the game planning to just play five, but we weren’t in foul trouble and all the timeouts (including media tv timeouts) allowed us to get rest in-between. But if we had needed to [substitute], I have total confidence in all our kids.”

The Greenwood School District provided bus transportation for about 150 students to cheer on their team, and Brooklyn Woolsey commented on that support, saying, “It means a lot to us. The atmosphere [was] great. I think that really [helped] us play.” Anna Trusty, who lettered four years for the Lady Bulldogs, seeing significant playing time as a freshman, offered her thoughts on winning three consecutive championships. “It’s been awesome,” she said. “Lots of people go through their high school career without even going to one [championship game]. To be able to go for three is awesome.”

She was also asked about her future in college basketball, but said, “I’m still weighing my options, but I’ll figure it out soon.” She listed Long Beach State and Boston University as two of the Division I schools that have made her scholarship offers, among others she is still talking with, and numerous Division II schools.

First Quarter

Offensively, the Lady Bulldogs were simply on fire for the first eight minutes of the game, draining 11 of their 17 shots, including five of seven from beyond the three-point line. Brooklyn Woolsey was responsible for three of those bombs, with Anna Trusty and Izzy Smith accounting for the other two. Their patented pressure defense wasn’t too shabby either, causing numerous Vilonia turnovers, resulting in nine GHS points on the other end of the floor.

The Lady Bulldogs won the opening tip and Brooklyn Woolsey broke the scoring ice with a three-pointer just 12 seconds into the game. Moments later, after missing a three-point attempt, Izzy Smith banked one off the glass for a 5-1 GHS lead. A Woolsey scoring drive made it 7-3 near the 6:00 mark, followed by layups from Trusty and Kylah Pearcy, forcing Vilonia to call a timeout to stop the bleeding.

The brief pause helped, and the Lady Eagles rallied to trim the GHS lead to just two points at 13-11 with the help of a field goal and a pair of three-pointers sandwiched around a Kylah Pearcy jumper. But an Izzy Smith three-pointer and a Pearcy driving layup pushed the Greenwood advantage to seven points at 18-11 at the 2:00 mark. Anna Trusty then added her first and only three-pointer of the game, making it 21-12, and Vilonia would never get closer than nine points the rest of the way.

Brooklyn Woolsey launched a three-pointer from the top of the key to make it 24-13, then added another from the corner in front of the Vilonia bench for good measure. The Lady Eagles got the last word though, scoring in the final seconds of the period, but still trailed 27-15 after the opening quarter.

It’s hard to imagine the Lady Bulldogs could have played any better in the first eight minutes. It was among their finest performances of the season and under the biggest, brightest spotlight in the state finals. Overall, Greenwood shot 65% from the floor and 71% from beyond the three-point line. Regardless of the league or level of competition, that’s good shooting. The Vilonia girls shot over 50% themselves with two three-pointers, but had only nine total shots in the quarter, making five. Greenwood made two more shots than Vilonia attempted, and five of them were for three points each.

Second Quarter

The Lady Bulldogs’ aim didn’t diminish in the second period either, though they manufactured fewer chances, connecting on seven of 11 field goal attempts (67%), including just one more trey in three tries. Greenwood won the period, 17-14, to carry a 44-29 lead into the locker room at the break. Trailing throughout the first half, mostly by double-digits, it was clear the Lady Eagles were fighting an uphill battle against an experienced and superior opponent, a sure formula for disappointment.

Kylah Pearcy opened the scoring in the period with a driving reverse layup, making it 29-15. After a Vilonia three-pointer, Greenwood missed one of its own but got a scoop shot from Izzy Smith to make it 31-18. Brooklyn Woolsey scored inside after another failed three-point attempt, but Greenwood still led 33-20 at the 4:30 mark. Another missed trey was followed by a short jumper from Anna Trusty, making the score 35-22 (3:40).

A pair of Kylah Pearcy free throws followed by another driving layup from the sophomore made it 39-24 near the two-minute mark, surpassing Greenwood’s earlier 12-point margin at the end of the first quarter. The Lady Bulldogs then closed out the first half with a three-pointer by Smith and an acrobatic left-handed scoop shot off the glass by Carly Sexton. Having never left the floor, the Greenwood starting five walked off the court somewhat exhausted but exhilarated that their efforts had produced a 44-29 cushion after 16 minutes of play.

Third Quarter

The Lady Eagles made their only serious run early in the second half by scoring the first six points of the third quarter, forcing Coach Reeves to call a pair of quick timeouts to rally his troops and stop Vilonia’s momentum. Greenwood missed its first three shots, turned the ball over twice and committed a foul before they regrouped to essentially put the game on ice. The Lady Bulldogs went on a 17-8 scoring blitz the rest of the period to rebuild a comfortable 61-43 cushion going into the final stanza. It was Kylah Pearcy who scored Greenwood’s first points of the period on another aggressive drive to the basket near the 5:50 mark, making the score 46-35. Another Pearcy layup pushed the Greenwood lead to 10 points at 48-38 (4:30).

An old-fashioned three-point play by Anna Trusty was followed by a Brooklyn Woolsey three-pointer and the Lady Bulldogs led 54-38 when play was halted at the 4:00 mark for a media timeout. Woolsey then drove the lane and laid one off the glass before hitting another three-pointer on her next trip down the floor. Izzy Smith closed the period with a turnaround putback jumper at the buzzer, crushing the hopes of the Lady Eagles. Greenwood then led 61-43 with eight minutes remaining to play.

Fourth Quarter

Kylah Pearcy, who was so dynamic through the first three periods, picked up her fourth foul at the 6:40 mark of the final quarter. She did not score another point but managed to hang around until getting whistled for her fifth infraction with 4:25 left to play. Greenwood led 63-47 at that point and Jenna Honkala was the first reserve off the GHS bench to replace Pearcy, who finished the game making eight of her ten field goal attempts and both of her free throws in 28 minutes of outstanding play. She profiles as Greenwood’s top scorer over the next two seasons.

With Pearcy sidelined, Anna Trusty took over the game offensively for the Lady Bulldogs, starting with a long jumper and a free throw to make the score 66-47, Greenwood’s largest of the game to that point. Another driving basket by Trusty and another free throw was followed by a Carly Sexton offensive rebound and bucket, making it 71-49 with 2:30 left. Off an assist by Trusty, Sexton then scored again in the paint for the last points from a GHS starter.

Coach Reeves summoned three players off the bench at the 1:16 mark with Izzy Smith at the free throw line. She hit both shots and remained in the game while her three senior teammates – Trusty, Woolsey, and Sexton – retired to a bench full of smiles, hugs, and high fives, knowing they had secured a third straight 5A championship. Joining Smith on the floor for the final minute of play was senior McKenzie Thomas along with juniors Pate Jones, Piper Pitts, and Jenna Honkala. Except for Thomas, those four players will be counted on heavily next season, along with Kylah Pearcy.

But for icing on the cake, Greenwood’s bench and student section went crazy when a wide-open McKenzie Thomas received a pass from Izzy Smith and calmly lofted a soft baseline jumper toward the basket. The shot hit the rim and bounced twice more before falling through the cords for a moment she will never forget. Vilonia then missed two frustrating shots under the basket before Greenwood rebounded the ball and ran out the remaining seconds for the championship.

Wrapping up the official stats, Brooklyn Woolsey led the victors in scoring with 21 total points on eight of 12 shooting, including five of eight three-pointers. She also grabbed five rebounds and had two assists and two steals. Kylah Pearcy and Anna Trusty both netted 18 points each. Pearcy hit 80% of her ten shots with five rebounds and two steals. Trusty hit six of her 15 shots but added five points at the charity stripe on eight attempts. She also had six boards, three assists, a blocked shot and a steal.

Izzy Smith was four of seven shooting with a pair of free throws for 12 total points. She grabbed two rebounds and had four assists and a steal. Carley Sexton scored six points on three of seven shooting with six rebounds, three assists and three steals. Among the starters, Smith was the only one to play all 32 minutes. Trusty, Woolsey, and Sexton played 31 minutes and Pearcy 28 minutes. Greenwood made 30 shots in the contest compared to just 18 for Vilonia. The Lady Bulldogs also made eight three-pointers to only four by the Lady Eagles.

A Special Group

Summing up the 2023-24 season for the Lady Bulldogs is easy. They are winners, plain and simple. The senior triumvirate of Anna Trusty, Brooklyn Woolsey, and Carley Sexton became an almost unstoppable force on the court, melded together through many years of playing basketball the Clay Reeves’ way, ever since junior high school. Add to that the emerging talents of sophomore Kylah Pearcy and the steady play of junior Izzy Smith, and the GHS girls were destined to win it all again.

Like the Bulldogs’ football state champions last fall, in the final analysis, there wasn’t another team in their classification that could hold a candle to the Lady Bulldogs. They won most of their games in a romp, dominated the 5A West conference, and breezed through the state tournament with relative ease, beating the next best team by 26 points in the title game.

The word “dynasty” certainly fits the Lady Bulldogs’ run over the last five seasons, again very much like the football team. Winning three straight state titles and four in five years is a remarkable achievement in any sport, and they should be both proud and humbled by the experience. The memory of that journey they will take with them the rest of their lives.

So, thanks to Coach Reeves, assistant coach Ryan Lensing, and the GHS varsity ladies for all their dedication, hard work, and thrills these past three years, and good luck to those seniors who are moving on and to those younger players who remain to build upon the legacy of winning basketball for the Lady Bulldogs. There’s more work to be done, more victories to claim, and you’ve certainly got some big shoes to fill.

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