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How did Providence Day build a girls basketball dynasty? From inside-out

Providence Day’s girls basketball team, led by head coach Josh Springer (far left, with child), won its 8th straight state championship Saturday
Providence Day’s girls basketball team, led by head coach Josh Springer (far left, with child), won its 8th straight state championship Saturday

Moments after Providence Day's girls’ basketball team beat High Point Wesleyan 58-57 to win its eighth straight state championship Saturday, Chargers coach Josh Springer stood in his locker room, wet from a postgame victory shower from his girls.

Across the hall, Wesleyan coach Matt McCarthy was pumping his team up by making it think about next year, and what he believed would be a championship-rematch with Providence Day in 2018. McCarthy's team rehearsed the yet-to-come state championship celebration, and he promised afterwards that his team -- which had no seniors -- would be back.

“Our goal,” McCarthy said, “is to be the first team to knock them off.”

In 10 years at Providence Day, Springer has built one of the greatest dynasties in the history of N.C. sports. And he's built up a great deal of resentment among his coaching peers, too.

Independence High football once won 109 straight games and seven straight N.C. 4A football championships. What Springer has done mirrors that, and perhaps even tops it.

Providence Day has won 105 straight CISAA conference games, and won 13 of the past 14 state championships. Since 2014, the school has produced two McDonald's All-Americans -- Jatarie White in 2014 and Janelle Bailey this year -- and has also produced four of the past five Gatorade N.C. players of the year.

Bailey, a McDonald's All-American signed to North Carolina, is an almost virtual lock to make that five Charger N.C. winners in six years.

“That jersey means a lot,” said McCarthy, the Wesleyan coach. “(Springer) is the best coach in high school basketball, at the girls' level, and they've got a McDonald’s All-American, so that's a really good basketball team.”

When Springer came to Providence Day 10 years ago, he replaced Barbara Nelson, who had built the Chargers into arguably the state's top girls’ program in public or private school. Nelson, six times the Observer Coach of the Year, was 437-176 with seven state titles at Providence Day in 21 years. She left to coach college ball at Wingate, where she won 101 games and made three NCAA tournament appearance and one Elite 8 run.

Nelson, now a two-time N.C. 4A state championship coach at Myers Park High, also coached two USA Basketball junior teams to gold medals and was named USA Basketball Developmental coach of the year in 2010.

Springer said he was a little nervous when he started, about continuing a tradition at a great program -- and following a legend.

“Barb's phenomenal,” Springer said. “She's one of the great high school coaches anywhere. So was there pressure? Yes. But I said, ‘I'm going to try to be the best me. That's going to be it. We're going to try to have a championship culture and build from within."

Springer learned the game from his father, who coached college and high school ball in Wisconsin. Springer's first coaching job came at 18 years old, working for his father at a junior college, coaching some players eight years older than him.

Springer later coached at Ohio University, Emory and Henry and Tusculum, before landing a recruiting coordinator job at Belmont Abbey. But when Nelson was leaving Providence Day, Springer jumped at the chance to succeed her.

"When I was single," he said. "It was great traveling all over the country. I loved recruiting. Fifteen years ago, I thought I wanted to coach college forever. But then I got married, had kids. That became the priority. And then came this great opportunity at Providence Day. Phenomenal facilities, a great administration and athletics are important."

At Providence Day, Springer's plan was simple: hire good, loyal people who planned to be around. And it's working. Today, he said the Chargers have 150 girls playing from K-12, all learning the defense-first style he emphasizes and all the young ones wanting to keep winning state title rings, just like all the older ones before them.

"We're so fortunate to have great coaches throughout our program," Springer said. "Some of them have been here nine or 10 years, and you see head coaches turn over, year after year, and assistant coaches, too. We've tried really hard to build a foundation from within with great dedicated, passionate basketball coaches. Those are the third grade coaches you never hear about, the sixth grade coaches, the eighth grade. That's been extremely important."

What's that produced is a major winning tradition and star player after star player -- and a whole lot of winning.

"I call the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 3A championship the Providence Day Invitational," said McCarthy, the Wesleyan coach and a good friend of Springer. "It's their tournament."

Springer admits his success has led to some, um, animosity among opponents around North Carolina. His players, though, are a little more nonchalant about it.

"I don't know how the frustration feels," said junior point guard Kennedy Boyd, a Division I recruit who won her third state title ring Saturday. "I've never been on that side of it. It must be hard, but I want to thank God for putting us in this position."

And Bailey, the All-American, doesn't expect anything to change anytime soon.

"This will continue," she said after scoring 22 points and grabbing 22 rebounds in the championship game. "Tradition never changes. No matter if I leave or someone else leaves. Tradition never, ever, graduates."

The Providence Day Dynasty

The Providence Day girls basketball team won its eighth straight NC Independent Schools 3A state championship Saturday, 58-57 over High Point Wesleyan. A look at their previous championship results

2016: 42-21 over Raleigh Ravenscoft

2015: 36-29 over Rabun Gap

2014: 45-20 over Greensboro Day

2013: 44-28 over Rabun Gap

2012: 66-42 over Greensboro Day

2011: 46-35 over Charlotte Christian

2010: 61-48 over Hickory Grove

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