As early as 1977 when Dryden High School beat two-time defending state champion Poquoson 43-41 in the VHSL Group A state championship, girls basketball squads from the small schools in the southwest corner of Virginia have been competing on a regular basis for the state title.
The fall of 2000 was a special one for Southwest Virginia, however. Two powerhouse teams from the same district squared off in the state championship game.
Lonesome Pine District foes Appalachia, led by NCAA Division I prospect Roshana Jackson, faced a talented, experienced J.J. Kelly squad for the sixth time in the season at the Salem Civic Center to decide the first girls basketball state title of the 21st century.
Led by Jackson’s 15 points and 10 rebounds, the Lady Bulldogs defeated Kelly 49-41 to win its only state crown in girls basketball.
While Appalachia and Kelly ended their seasons in the state championship game, Pat Jervis, who coached the Lady Bulldogs to the state title, said there were no easy games for his team, particularly playing the LPD.
“Every game in the LPD was a dog fight,” Jervis said. “There were some great teams then. Of course, Kelly had a great team and great coach in Robin Dotson, but there were a bunch of others, too. Gate City was always good with Hugh Godsey coaching them, and Pound had Chelsea Lee, who was a great player. It was just tough.”
Other teams in the region also had plenty of talent, Jervis said. During the regular season Appalachia beat Lee High twice — by one point on both occasions.
“It was just tough every night out,” he said.
Appalachia and Kelly looked a lot different on paper.
The Lady Bulldogs had only eight players on their squad. Led by Jackson, a junior, Jervis’ team had only one senior on the squad, Mandy Turner.
“She was a huge part of that team,” Jervis said of Turner. “She was tough and knew the game. Really, that whole team was tough.”
The rest of the roster included Megan Dean Goforth, Shamika Sheppard Williams, Erica Counts, Ashley Varner, Erica Varner and Leah Leedy.
“I don’t believe three of us ever came out of the game in most of the games,” Goforth said. “We just had eight players, and we knew what we had to do.”
Kelly had some experience and depth.
“That year, Kelly was tough,” Jackson said. “Their starting five could put the ball in the hoop, and their depth was ridiculous.”
Dotson’s roster for the Lady Indians included eight seniors, including starters Rachel Yates and Elizabeth Hatfield. The other seniors included Emily Blanton, Desiree Dean, Lindsey Yates, Ashley Bolling, Morgan Stanley and Tyger Oakes.
Most of them played on Kelly’s state runner-up team in 1998 and were hungry for a return trip to the championship.
The Kelly roster also included four sophomores and three future NCAA Division I prospects in Sarah Helton, Rachel Helton and LaShay Collier as well as Alicia Longworth.
“There were some tremendous athletes on both teams,” Dotson said.
Appalachia and Kelly split the six games they played evenly with each team winning three.
The teams split their regular-season meetings and shared the LPD’s regular-season championship.
Kelly won a one-game playoff to determine the district’s automatic bid to the Region D tournament. Appalachia then won the LPD tournament championship.
The two teams met again in the regional championship game with Kelly winning the contest after trailing the Lady Bulldogs by 13 points at halftime. Then came the showdown in Salem.
STATE TITLE GAME
By the time the state championship game rolled around, both teams were banged up.
“Rachel Helton broke her foot and she didn’t play for us,” Dotson said.
Rachel Yates also played injured for the Lady Indians after suffering a chemical burn to her shooting hand earlier in the year.
Appalachia’s Goforth injured her ankle earlier in state tournament action when she chased a loose ball out of bounds. Despite being injured, Goforth said she was not going to miss the state title game.
“Absolutely not,” Goforth said of sitting out the state title game. “We didn’t ride that yellow school bus from Appalachia to Salem for me not to play. That wasn’t going to happen.”
Goforth finished the game with eight points, while her fellow guard added 12 for the Lady Bulldogs.
In addition to leading the game in points and rebounds, Jackson also had a game-high six blocked shots.
“You just could not shoot the ball inside against Roshana,” Dotson said.
Kelly was led by Sarah Helton’s 17 points and six rebounds, while Longworth scored 10 points for the Lady Indians.
“Appalachia just outplayed us on that day,” Dotson said.
The biggest difference came in the shooting category.
Appalachia shot close to 50%, while Kelly struggled from the floor, shooting just 26%.
Jervis said assistant coaches Allyson Sutherland and Barry Williams were also key in the Lady Bulldogs winning the state title.
“Allyson was great and knew basketball, and she just had a great relationship with the girls. And Barry Williams was just a good, solid guy all the way around,” Jervis said.
Appalachia, with seven of its eight players back, including Jackson, advanced to the state tournament the next year but fell to Radford in the state quarterfinals.
Kelly also went to the state tournament in 2001 but fell to Glenvar — led by future NCAA Division I star Allyson Fasnacht in the state quarterfinals.
Kelly, led by a group of seniors who lost the state title game to Appalachia in 2000, won the state championship in 2002. The win was the only girls basketball state title by J.J. Kelly.
The strong basketball tradition paved by Kelly and Appalachia continues to this day.
In 2011, Kelly was consolidated with Pound to form Wise Central.
Central, coached by Dotson, has won five state titles since 2014.
Union, a consolidation of Appalachia and Powell Valley, finished as state runner-up in 2016 and won the Region 2D championship this year.
“Those schools remind me of the old LPD and Region D,” Jervis said. “Central, Union, Ridgeview, Gate City, any of them can win it all about any year.”