SALEM – The Springfield girls 8th grade basketball team traveled to Salem in late February and took home the state championship, playing eight games in three days to secure the title. The eighth game coming with a side benefit of revenge.
“The team we played in the championship, we had actually lost twice to earlier in the season,” said Hayward Alexander, head coach of the 8th-grade team. “At a time where I thought they’d be too tired to do that much in a weekend, they really stepped up. It’s really kind of like one of the Cinderella stories.”
It wasn’t an easy season for Springfield, multiple key injuries meant the team didn’t get a lot of time. It’s why Alexander said that although the large amount of games were tough, it actually might have helped the team.
“They were able to get the flow of each other and really start to connect. Our second-to-last game we only won by one point, so they battled that whole game to get us to the championship game,” Alexander said. “They were just super dialed in. We’ve been working really hard on communicating and listening to what coaches are telling them to do and sticking to the plan.”
With Springfield High School competing for a state championship this week, the girls basketball program in Springfield is one of the best in the state at the moment. It’s not by accident either, with the youth team brushing shoulders with the high schoolers as much as possible.
“I think it’s just getting parents and kids to buy in. What they’re doing at the high school right now is amazing,” Alexander said. “We’re getting the older girls involved with the younger girls, and we’re really trying to build that family connection with the kids.”
It’s also important for Alexander, whose daughter is on the youth team, to create a space for these athletes to compete and learn what it takes, while also being supported.
“If you want to play, you want to show up and work hard, we’re gonna support that, and you’ll be a part of the team,” Alexander said. “I think it’s huge to give kids a safe space, and create an environment of uplifting.”