LUMBERTON — Lumberton senior London Thompson can reach rare air at next week’s Robeson County Shootout.
The four-year player for the Lady Pirates has never came up short of the championship game in the annual tournament, which celebrates its 25th edition this year.
Thompson aims to cap her prep career with a fourth consecutive championship appearance — and second straight title — this year.
“I want to win it bad,” Thompson said. “My team is coming together really well.”
Thompson and the Lady Pirates are the reigning Shootout champs after topping Red Springs in the title game last year.
Lumberton lost to Dillon in the championship game in the two years prior. A championship game appearance next week would make Thompson one of a select few players in Lumberton history to make it to the Shootout championship all four years.
“Only one other group did that. That was Billie McDowell and Yolanda Jones and that was a great group,” Lumberton coach Danny Graham said of his teams from 1999 to 2003. “She’s right up there with that group. You can’t get much better than that.”
As the lone returning starter in the backcourt for the Lady Pirates, Thompson has accepted her new role as point guard. She is leading the team in scoring with over 18 points per game and is nearly averaging a double-double with more than nine rebounds per contest. Lumberton, with an 8-1 mark, brings the best record of any team in the field to the tournament.
“Since we have a lot of underclassmen, it’s a big role getting to play with them and getting them used to the varsity speed,” Thompson said. “It started rough, but now we are getting together as a team.”
Graham has coached the Lady Pirates for 23 seasons, leading the program to eight championships and 12 title game appearance during his tenure.
Lumberton will open with South Robeson at home on Wednesday. The winner of that matchup plays the winner of the meeting between Dillon and St. Pauls, which will be played at UNCP.
The possible matchup between the Lady Pirates and the Lady Wildcats could be the fifth straight time that Lumberton and Dillon have met in the tournament. The two programs have won the last five titles. Last year, Lumberton topped Dillon in the opening round.
“It’s always good competition. I’m sure they’ve got a real good team this year,” Graham said. “Hopefully they bring out the best in us and we bring out the best in them.”
Dillon coach James McMillian added: “I looked down and said well if we can get by St. Pauls, we get the animal in Lumberton. We’re not the same team from the previous year. I graduated five seniors. This year’s team is athletic but we are young.”
Under first-year coach Mike Moses, St. Pauls is off to a 3-1 start in Three Rivers Conference play — the program’s best since the 2013-14 season. On the side of the bracket with Dillon and Lumberton, Moses sees this as a good challenge for his young team.
“I think it’s a great experience,” he said. “At the end of the day, we’ve all got the same referees and put our shorts on the same way. I’m excited at the opportunity to even see those guys and get a chance to play against a team that is established in their state.
South Robeson coach Lula Ratley knows that the opener at Lumberton is a tough draw for her team, but wants this to be a learning moment for her young squad. The test that the Lady Pirates pose for South Robeson is tougher than one it will see at any time the rest of the season in conference play.
“We’ll just go in and give our best effort. It’s tough,” Ratley said. “We will learn from this. With the younger girls, they will see all the hard work that other teams put in.”
On the other side of the bracket, Fairmont opens the tournament at home against Lake View, which is taking part in the tournament for the first time. Red Springs hosts Purnell Swett in the other game with the second round featuring the winners of the matchup and the consolation bracket pitting the losers opposite each other.
A possible semifinal matchup for the Red Devils could be rival Fairmont. The Lady Golden Tornadoes are off to a 4-2 start to the year for the first time in over a decade and have built the program up to compete for the Three Rivers Conference title, along with the Lady Red Devils.
Coming close last year, and having two contests already this season against Lumberton, Red Springs coach Steve Sinclair likes where his team is placed and sees the possible meetings from where his team starts as a good test for his team.
“That possible second-round matchup against Fairmont is big for us, especially for us as we go into conference play and it could be a tiebreaker,” Sinclair said. “This year we already played Lumberton twice and now their confidence is up, we know what they are and know how we can compete with them a little better.”
After being an assistant on several teams that have won the Robeson County Shootout in the past, Fairmont coach Richard Mitchell wants his chance to be the head coach of a winning team.
“I’ve been on some championship teams and took pictures as an assistant coach in the Shootout, but one thing I never had was taking a picture as a head coach in the Shootout. It might not be this year, but I want to take my picture as a champion as a head coach,” he said.
Purnell Swett picked up its first win of the season last week at Cheraw and now enters the tournament hungry for another win.
“Whoever we are up against, we knew we would take it with open arms and embrace the challenge,” Purnell Swett coach Danyel Jolicoeur said. “I know Red Springs is nobody to sleep on and in the past they have had great play. I just hope we show up and put on a good show.”
After coaching at South Robeson for 12 years, Larry Inman returns to the Shootout with a new team under his guidance. Inman and Lake View will take the short trip across the border to Fairmont to open the event.
“It’s a good tournament and I’m glad to be back in it,” Inman said. “We are trying to get it together and I hope we can gel together and give them a good game.”
Consolation games will be played Dec. 21 at South Robeson and Fairmont, with second round games in the championship bracket set to start Dec. 22 at Lumberton and Fairmont.
UNCP will host the placing games on Saturday from 10 a.m. until the boys championship, which is slated for an 8 p.m. tip.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.