They did it for Mama Bear.
From Alan Snyder accepting the boys’ basketball coaching position at Covenant Life just before the season to the nine-game winning streak that the Cougars brought into Saturday’s Potomac Valley Athletic Conference championship to the pink shirts painting the crowd and fueling Covenant Life to a 84-64 rout of St. Anselm’s — it was all for Sue Snyder.
Alan Snyder had tasted plenty of basketball glory in the past; he had led Covenant Life’s girls’ basketball team to several titles last decade. So the thought of returning to the school after spending the last few years in Tampa never crossed his mind until his wife, Sue, mentioned it.
“I had coached our older son a lot, but I had never coached our younger son, Kevin,” said Snyder, his pink “We Love Mama Bear” shirt soaked in the aftermath of Saturday’s win. “So with the job opening and it being Kevin’s senior year, I decided to come back.”
So too did Sue’s bout with breast cancer, the same disease she had overcome 10 years earlier. On the same Jan. 13 night that Covenant Life lost its second straight game to the McLean School, Alan and his children learned that Sue only had a few more days to live.
“That was tough, but since then, we kind of rallied around that and we haven’t lost since then,” Alan said.
The Cougars (24-4) extended the string of wins to 10 on Saturday, wrestling early control of the contest from a St. Anselm’s team that had defeated them earlier in the season. In an effort to suck away any offensive energy for St. Anselm’s senior center T.J. Duckett (29 points), the Cougars attacked the rim in the first half, heeding Snyder’s challenge to avoid jump shots for the first four minutes.
Josh Merryman benefitted from the aggressive approach with seven first-quarter points before giving way to point guard Brandon Thompson. As he has all season, the senior tore through the Panthers’ defense, pushing the tempo with quick shots and strong drives into the paint. Eight of Thompson’s 25 points came during a 22-9 second-quarter run by the Cougars that broke open the game, turning a three-point lead into a 20-point halftime advantage.
Kevin Snyder also stepped up during the effort that honored his mom, scoring 21 points, including 6-of-7 free throws in the fourth quarter, as the Cougars won their third league title in five years.
“We did it for my mom, who died from cancer last month [Jan. 22], and for each other as a team,” Snyder said. “It’s an amazing feeling to get this win.”
Jewish Day had long ago established itself as the team to beat in the PVAC girls’ race. But with the Lions’ rout at the hands of Covenant Life in the 2012 title game still fresh in mind, they entered Saturday’s rematch with plenty to prove.
This motivation surfaced from the outset, as the Lions scored the game’s first 21 points en route to a 50-28 win at Wootton. The victory marks the Lions’ first conference title in at least a decade.
The Lions’ ability to pull away early mirrored the play of sophomore Daphne Lerner. The 5-foot-1 guard consistently capitalized on the Lions’ rebounding by leaking out in transition for layups. Ten of her 27 points came in the first quarter.
“We’d rather push it than set up at halfcourt,” said Lerner, who earned most valuable player honors. “So after the rebound, we just get it and go.”
Bolstered by a strong crowd that wore blue shirts in honor of Cougars player Teressa Rosalind French, who was killed after a car crash last month, Covenant Life gained some offensive rhythm in the second half, but with each Cougar miss came another opportunity for Lerner to put the Lions (16-1) back in control.
Following an 8-2 Covenant Life run, Lerner scored three consecutive buckets on breakaway drives to the rim, sealing the Lions’ championship triumph in Rebecca Silberman’s first year as varsity coach.
“I always tell the girls before games, ‘If they want to win, we will win,’ because we can with our talent,” Silberman said. “We’ve built a confidence during this year and that helped us put together a performance like this tonight.”