WHEN THE BUZZER SOUNDED AT THE END OF THE GAME, BAKARI LASTRAP FELT IT
He felt the joy and at the same time the bitter sweetness of his career ending the only way he thought it should – as a state champion.
"I can't express it enough. Being a state champion, everybody doesn't come across this. This year was the right team, right family, it's just all love," LaStrap said. "I can't thank the man up above enough."
LaStrap arrived at The Woodlands Christian Academy as a sophomore. He wanted his class to be the ones to leave a lasting legacy. When he walked onto campus, the Warriors hadn't won a basketball state title since 2012. It was Tanner Field's second season at the helm of the program. The year prior to LaStrap arriving, the Warriors had made the TAPPS Final Four but fell in the state semifinals.
As LaStrap walked off the court one last time in February, he did so with a legacy cemented – threestraight TAPPS Final Fours, three-straight title games and two state championships.
"Bakari LaStrap is the type of young man you would love to replicate every year," Field said. "He has been a blessing to our basketball program and overall school community. He is a great leader on and off the court and will be missed. He joined us to help lead our program to a championship level both on the court and culturally. He for sure did that and much more."
With the high school portion of his career over, LaStrap looks back on it knowing he was able to do things others dream of. "This is every high school basketball kid's dream, finishing off with a state championship," LaStrap said. "Having two, it's a lot of hard work. Everything behind the scenes paid
THIS CHAMPIONSHIP RUN FELT DIFFERENT
From the onset of the 2019- 2020 season, The Woodlands Christian Academy was the clear favorite to not only return to the TAPPS 4A Final Four – but to win the whole thing. "It's always different when you're the team that's supposed to win," TWCA fourth-year coach Tanner Field said. "You're expected to win, you're supposed to be dominant."
Dominant is exactly what The Woodlands Christian Academy ended up being, especially in the final two games of the year. At the TAPPS Final Four, TWCA dismantled John Paul II in an 87-49 victory and then ran past Covenant Christian for a 68-50 victory in the state championship game. "To have these kids play the best two games of the year in the Final Four was definitely satisfying," Field said. "To watch the smiles on their faces and the joy that they had being able to complete the task was amazing." But this group's legacy goes beyond just one game.
This story really starts back in the 2017-2018 season – the first year for TWCA to win a title under Field and company. That year, The Woodlands Christian Academy ended a bit of a title drought. The Warriors hadn't won a championship since 2012, which at the time was the program's fourth title in five seasons.
When this current group of seniors were just sophomores, they set out on a mission. They wanted to leave their legacy. "Just coming back in 10 or 20 years, knowing what we wanted to start my sophomore year and accomplishing some of that," Bakari LaStrap said. "Changing the culture, changing the name of The Woodlands Christian, people in the city know us and hopefully our name just keeps growing in the state and with more championships."
For Luke Mansfield, TWCA has been a special place, considering he has walked the campus for the past six years. In 2018, Mansfield was on the team that won the program's first championship in six years. However, he felt like he played a more "vital" role on this year's team in what ended up being his last basketball season ever. "To end my last basketball game with a championship is the only thing I wanted," Mansfield said. "There's no better way to go out. "I think it's really cool to leave the legacy we did. Hanging two banners is not something most people get to do. It's really cool that we got to do that."
When the word legacy is thrown around, this Class of 2020 can make its' case. It's a group of seniors that for some leave a legacy of four-straight TAPPS Final Fours, three-straight championship game appearances and two state titles.
"For that group, the goal from the beginning of the year was not to only put up a banner and leave a legacy that they could come visually see on the wall, but to also leave a legacy from a cultural standpoint," Field said. "I want it to be when they come back two or three years from now, they see the culture that they instituted."
That next wave of talent and legacy builders will start with Austin Benigni. The sophomore played a crucial role on the team, learning from LaStrap the entire way. He earned TAPPS first-team, all-state honors at year's end. "That's the ultimate goal," Benigni said about wanting to win another title. "Hopefully me, Chanse and Dylan can win another one next year. It's just really cool to be able to do it as a sophomore."
Benigni will be a leader on the 2020-2021 version of the Warriors, as well as Chanse Perkins, Dylan Johnson and Caedmon Parker, who are the four returners. Talk about the future has already started for Field. It started a few days after the state tournament on a drive to Waco. "We're excited about that group of four," he said. "I think when you have success it attracts some kids from the local area that want to be a part of what we're doing. We also have some sophomores and juniors that are in our program that we are really excited about. "We transition to 5A next year, which is going to make things a little bit tougher, but we're excited about that opportunity and the challenge that presents."