Even a nationally ranked squad like the Africentric Early College girls basketball team, whose starting five all could end up playing for major college programs, faces adversity from time to time.
That was the case for the Nubians during the Division III state final March 16 at Ohio State.
Senior guard and Tennessee-signee Jordan Horston, the Division III state Player of the Year and a finalist for Ohio Ms. Basketball, ended up in urgent care the day before the game with a 102-degree temperature. She played despite being ill, but made just three of 20 shots from the floor.
Africentric shot only 27 percent from the floor, making 15 of 55 shots, but still found a way to beat the state's No. 3-ranked team, Waynesville, 51-47 to become the third program, along with Pickerington Central and Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame, to win seven state championships.
The Nubians, who finished 28-0 for their first undefeated season, won their second consecutive state title and third in four seasons.
"We had our fair share of adversities," said coach Will McKinney, whose team was ranked first in the state in Division III throughout the season and third in the nation by USA Today and ESPN and fourth in the nation by MaxPreps.com last week. "Overall, I thought it was a good day for us, and it was kind of rough, but we figured out a way to fight through it."
Africentric's strength of schedule likely helped it overcome the obstacles it faced in the state final.
The Nubians defeated Pickerington Central in a preseason scrimmage and took down a who's who of state, and even national, powers during the regular season.
Africentric opened Nov. 24 with a 60-55 victory over Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame, which beat Pickerington Central on March 16 for the Division I state title.
On Dec. 15, the Nubians avenged a loss to Detroit Edison last season by defeating the Pioneers, who were ranked No. 5 in the nation by USA Today last week, 65-60 on the road.
An 81-38 victory Dec. 28 over Dublin Coffman, which finished 22-3, was another eye-opener, and the next day the Nubians beat one of Illinois' eventual state champions, Danville Schlarman Academy, 45-38.
Africentric also defeated two Division I district champions in Westerville South (63-47 on Jan. 26) and Newark (47-45 on Feb. 4) and marched unchallenged through the first six rounds of the postseason, including a 56-36 win over the state's second-ranked team, Findlay Liberty-Benton, in a regional final March 9.
Africentric then beat Berlin Hiland, which was ranked fourth in the final state poll, 61-48 in a state semifinal March 14 at Ohio State.
The Nubians will enter next season on a 37-game winning streak. Their last loss came against Huber Heights Wayne, 41-35 on Feb. 8, 2018.
"It's amazing," said McKin-ney, who is 355-63 in 16 seasons with the Nubians. "To win one state championship is amazing and it's a lifelong thing to talk about. ... Jordan has been to the state tournament every year and won (three). (Sophomore forward) Arianna (Smith) has been here twice already and won back-to-back (titles). It's just unbelievable the accomplishments that have happened. I vividly remember when people used to laugh at Africentric when I started with the program. The principal couldn't give the job away, and it's a testament to how hard we've worked in the program."
The Nubians are losing Horston, who averaged 17.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 3.8 steals this season and was named Gatorade Ohio Player of the Year, as well as senior backup guard and Southern Arkansas-signee Tearra Cook.
Horston started as a freshman when Africentric beat Marion Pleasant 59-37 for the state title. Last season, she and Cook helped the Nubians defeat Versailles 53-47 for the state championship.
Horston had 15 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, Smith had 11 points and six rebounds, sophomore forward Maliyah Johnson had seven points and 13 rebounds and junior guard Alexia Smith added six points and seven rebounds against Waynesville, which finished 27-1.
Alexia Smith was a second-team all-state honoree. She, Arianna Smith, Johnson and junior post player Sakima Walker are starters who should return next season.
Junior guard Nyam Thornton and sophomore guards Charjae' Brock, Anyiah Murphy and McKala Wheat are others eligible to return. Thornton missed several games with a broken hand but played 22 minutes in the state final off the bench.
"We were just going to come together even though we're not making the shots we usually make," Arianna Smith said of the state final. "At Africentric, we're a family, so when we come back, we know what our mission is that year."