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VSU Trojans, VUU Lady Panthers win CIAA; next stop NCAA regionals

Fred Jeter | 3/8/2019, noon
The powerful engine that is Virginia State University basketball barely tapped its brakes rumbling through Charlotte, N.C., and the CIAA ...

Now he’ll be fitted for a third.

It’s about time for Coach Blow to be mentioned with some of the CIAA’s all-time coaching greats, including the likes of Clarence “Big House” Gaines, Dave Robbins, Charles Christian, Ernie Fears, Mike Bernard, Steve Joyner and Bobby Vaughan.

Since the 2015-16 season, VSU is 98-21 overall under Coach Blow and 58-10 in the CIAA. He was 63-27 previously at St. Augustine’s.

Sitting it out: The Trojans might have been even stronger if not for the unfortunate injury to senior Walter Williams, who had been named preseason All-CIAA.

The former Henrico High School standout suffered a season-ending foot injury in November. Fortunately, he will receive a medical redshirt and return to action in the 2019-20 season.

Looking ahead: The CIAA Tournament returns to Charlotte in 2020 before moving to Baltimore in 2021. The event has been held in Charlotte since 2006.

Minus one: This was Chowan University’s final CIAA Tournament appearance. The university in Murfreesboro, N.C., will be leaving the CIAA as a full-time member to join Conference Carolinas in 2019-20. The Hawks will remain a CIAA associate member for football and bowling.

Chowan, while not an HBCU, has been a CIAA affiliate since 2007.  

McNeill takes Lady Panthers to top spot

Virginia Union University may have discovered something even more valuable than home court advantage.

Call it the hometown girl advantage.

Shareka McNeill turned in a historically brilliant performance in leading the VUU Lady Panthers to the CIAA Tournament title with a 74-41 win over Fayetteville State University last Saturday at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, N.C.

The win marked the Lady Panthers’ third CIAA title in four years under Coach AnnMarie Gilbert.

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Lady Panthers Coach AnnMarie Gilbert cuts down the net in the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, N.C., following Virginia Union University’s victory over Fayetteville State University last Saturday to claim the CIAA championship crown.

Next up for the team is the NCAA Division II Atlantic Region playoffs that start March 15.

A feeling of familiarity may have played a role in southeastern North Carolina.

The Spectrum Center is just 4.7 miles from Harding High School in Charlotte, where Shareka and her twin sister, Shameka, starred before enrolling at VUU.

To underscore the close proximity, the Harding High ROTC Color Guard even performed prior to the CIAA championship game.

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Shareka McNeill

“It made a big difference playing before my family and friends and this great crowd. It was amazing,” McNeill said.

“Amazing” was the word of the week in describing the 5-foot-5 sophomore as she wore out defenders and statisticians alike.

In three games, McNeill tallied a tournament record 134 points, including 59 points against Livingstone College, 38 against Lincoln University of Pennsylvania and 37 in the final against Fayetteville State. She had 30 points at halftime during the final before easing off the gas.

Combined, she was 42 for 76 from the field, 24 of 39 behind the arc and 26 of 29 at the foul line.

As the CIAA Player of the Year, McNeill was a no-doubt-about-it CIAA Tournament MVP.

“Seeing this may be new to the rest of the world,” Coach Gilbert said. “But we see it every day. My job is to squeeze every bit of that talent out of her before she leaves.”

For the season, McNeill scored a CIAA best 23 points per game.

At VUU’s postgame press conference on Saturday, McNeill was asked if she had ever scored so much even in high school.

“No, I think the most I ever got in high school was 25,” she said.

With a response that cracked up the room, Coach Gilbert quickly chimed in, “Must be the coaching.”

Sister Shameka McNeill had four steals in the final game and 6-foot-1 junior Jasmine Carter, from Richmond’s John Marshall High School, contributed 18 points and 14 rebounds.

VUU will carry a 27-2 record and six straight victories into the NCAAs.

According to a Feb. 24 poll, the Lady Panthers are ranked No. 1 in the Atlantic Region and 12th nationally in Division II. That places the Lady Panthers in the pole position to host the Regionals for the third time in four years.

If so, VUU will not only have a hometown girl advantage in Carter but the home court advantage as well.