The Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School girls basketball team made history again Saturday in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, winning the program’s first back-to-back state championship title.
The No. 3-seeded Lady Eagles clinched the NCISAA 4A state championship with a 53-43 win over top seed Cannon School. This is the second state championship title in the Rabun Gap girls basketball program history, which dates back 50 years. The team won the 2022 state championship last February. This marks the first back-to-back state title for a girls team at Rabun Gap.
It was a close matchup between Rabun Gap and Cannon School; both were consistently ranked the state’s top two teams all season long. The Lady Eagles started the game cold from the floor, which carried over to the free-throw line. At the end of the first period, both teams were tied at 13. Cannon held the Lady Eagles to only 6 points in the second quarter to lead 24-19 at halftime.
The Lady Eagles bounced back in the second half when two huge three-point baskets by seniors Mia Wilson and Tuana Coskun started an impressive rally. The Lady Eagles flipped the momentum and outscored Cannon School 17 to 9 in the third quarter to take a 36-33 lead into the final period. Rabun Gap continued to frustrate Cannon’s high powered offensive players with their 2-3 zone defensive strategy. The Lady Eagles hit 15 of 20 free throws in the fourth quarter to secure the 53-43 victory.
Rabun Gap outscored Cannon 34-19 in the second half and continued to find their way to the FT line where they made 19 of 26 in the second half. Wilson saved one of her best performances for her final high school game, finishing with 16 huge points, 13 of them in the second half. Kornelia Ignerska handled the Cannon defensive pressure all night and contributed 8 points. Sofia McNabb was a warrior on the glass and added 8 points and a perfect 4-for-4 from the free-throw line. Ola Noworol altered many shots on the defensive end while grabbing many rebounds. Finally, Monna Julkunen and Francesca Cergol played excellent defense against Cannon’s Virginia Tech signee.
“This season has had its ups and downs,” said Head Coach Dale Earnhardt. “We played 32 games - 31 were on the road somewhere other than our own gym due to our gym floor being damaged over Christmas Break. We had a few injuries that kept key contributors out of action for long stretches. Not to mention, the pressure of trying to repeat when you have a target on your back all season. I could not be more proud of how determined these young ladies were to win it again.”
Earnhardt thanked his coaching staff, Weston Willard and Morgan Neiswender, for all they did to prepare the team for the state championship win. He also commended local schools and the community for stepping up to support Rabun Gap basketball this season despite the facility issues in the gym. Rabun Gap was able to finish the season playing home games at Franklin High School, Rabun County High School, and Western Carolina University.
“The communities of Franklin HS, Rabun County HS, and Western Carolina University were blessings from God with how they reached out to assist our basketball program once they learned of the floor damage,” Earnhardt said. “This year, the journey was challenging for us. However, I think we all followed the motto of ‘Enjoy the Journey’ down the stretch during the last weeks of the season. We played our best basketball during January and February and finished the season winning 14 of our last 16 games.”
It is the second team state championship trophy to come home to Rabun Gap this school year and the fifth in school history. The boys soccer program won its second-straight state championship last October. Prior to 2021, the last school state championship for a team was won in 1985 by boys cross country. Rabun Gap has had several individual state champions in wrestling and track & field over the years.
Members of the 2023 state championship girls basketball team include Ece Arabacioglu ’23 of Istanbul, Turkey; Carmen Cabello Rivera ’24 of Malaga, Spain; Francesca Cergol ’23 of Brooklyn, NY; Tuana Coşkun ’23 of Istanbul, Turkey; Jayla Frasz ’25 of Regina, Canada; Kornelia Ignerska ’24 of Poznan, Poland; Monna Julkunen ’24 of Vantaa, Finland; Sofia McNabb ’24 of Murphy, NC; Aleksandra Noworol ’25 of Jasionka, Poland; Angelica Vanflorcke ’24 of Sapphire, NC; and Mia Wilson ’23 of Murphy, NC. Assistant coaches were Morgan Neisweinder and Weston Willard.