It would not be the last thing that Dryden was the first in doing.
In 1977, the girls basketball team became the first squad to win a state championship from Lee County when the Crusaderettes took down mighty Poquoson to wrap up a perfect 24-0 season. Coincidentally, the first year Dryden fielded a girls team in 1921, it won the county title.
After Dryden had beaten the Lady Islanders 43-41 in Harrisonburg for the VHSL Group A championship, they had planned on staying the night. However, word reached home quickly and the team decided to make the 4-plus hour drive home that evening.
Cars started to follow the team bus in Gate City, and more cars joined in Stickleyville. By the time they got back to Dryden, there was a parade of cars that stretched back a mile or two behind them and there were 600-plus people waiting at the high school.
“When you come back and all the fans are there waiting for you in the cold, it’s a great feeling,” then-head coach Jimmy Peters said in an interview with Times News reporter Kathy Perovich. “Once you know people are pulling for you, you try harder, and our fans and the rest of the Cumberland was great.”
DAVID VS. GOLIATH
Poquoson came into the late November title game against Dryden having won the last two Group A titles and riding a 76-game winning streak — the fourth-longest winning streak in state history.
“They had three or four girls who were bigger in size than our girls, though not necessarily taller,” Coach Peters said.
Even though the Crusaderettes looked to be outmatched on paper, Janie Thacker, Dawn Peters, Emma Lawson, Jo Ferguson, Susan Quillen, Nancy Quillen, Katrina Tester, Marsha Ramsey, Angie Clark, Kim Bishop and Elaine Hobbs never gave up.
Dryden built a 10-point halftime lead thanks to a big-time effort from 5-5 sophomore Peters, who finished the game with 14 points.
Poquoson did rally late in the game to tie at 32 with 1:44 left, but the Crusaderettes responded with an 8-2 run and held on for the title. Dryden shot 50% (20-for-40) for the game and got 11 points from Ferguson.
“The people there said that we were definitely the best team and deserved to win,” Coach Peters said. “The Poquoson coaches said that we were the best team they’d seen in three years. It felt good for them to say that because there were a lot of good teams there.”
THE ROAD TO THE TITLE
In the semifinals, the Crusaderettes easily topped Fort Defiance 66-47. Peters remarked that the best competition all year had come from within Region D.
The regional title game against Powell Valley went to overtime at home as the Crusaderettes pulled away late in the extra period to win 40-34 and maintain a perfect record.
Nancy Quillen led Dryden with 14 points and Sharon Watkins poured in 21 for the Lady Vikings. Dryden never trailed in the game and took control early in overtime, starting on a 7-0 run.
The game was standing-room only by most accounts, and it was quite the payday for the school.
“The pressure was big in the Powell Valley game,” Coach Peters said. “We had one of the biggest crowds we’d ever had for it. I’m not sure how many people were there, but we made $1,300 at the gate and our biggest before that was maybe $700.”
Dryden won the Cumberland District tournament title easily over county rival Flatwoods 49-35. Peters had 11 points in the game and Hobbs was named tournament MVP.
IMPACT ON TODAY
The playoff format for girls basketball in Virginia was introduced in 1975, and the championships were played in the fall.
After the Crusaderettes were victorious in 1977, Rich Valley (1983, 65-58 over Buffalo Gap), Clintwood (1985, 52-40 over G.W. Carver and 1989, 52-51 over Glenvar), Rye Cove (1987, 61-55 over G.W. Carver) and Pound (1988, 46-44 over Buffalo Gap) all won Group A state titles before the 20th century was out.
Of course, teams like Appalachia in 2000, J.J. Kelly in 2002, J.I. Burton, Wise Central, Ridgeview and Gate City have all followed in their footsteps.
Perhaps “Little” Dryden — a school that had an enrollment of 180 kids at the time — helped pave the way for future Southwest Virginia girls basketball glory by winning a title of its own.