Coach Black named Coach of the year and Justiss Cantu named Player of the year
■ Everything came together perfectly.
■ The Union City High School graduate returned to her alma mater with a plan, and the girls believed, executed and made history.
■ After leading Union City to the state championship game, Black is the Palladium-Item’s 2016-17 All-Area Girls Basketball Coach of the Year.
“It was a great year, and as I talked to the girls at the banquet, yeah we were disappointed in how it ended, but to finish 24-5 and state runnerups, we were holiday tournament champions, of our five losses the only 1A school we lost to was Wood Memorial in that 1A state championship game, … I told them they had a lot to be proud of.”
Black’s biggest competition for the Coach of the Year honors came from Randolph County rival Winchester’s Holly Gutierrez, while Tri-Village coach Brad Gray also was considered after leading the Patriots to conference, sectional and district championships.
But Black’s accomplishments were historic.
Each of her starters had at least one statistical record: Courtney Wise with 1,192 points and 176 blocked shots, Baylee Hartman with 855 rebounds, Kora Kerns with 291 steals, Kelsey Zimmers with 114 made 3-pointers and junior Justiss Cantu with 358 assists. And Black is the program’s all-time winningest coach with a 85-52 record after six seasons.
“She has changed the program very much,” said Cantu, the All-Area Player of the Year. “She has not only brought the family thing to us but also taught us about being a better person.”
It took patience after back-to-back losing seasons
in Black’s first two years with the program, but the growing pains only made the Indians that much better. Union City showed just how good they could be in the past three years, winning three straight Tri-Eastern Conference titles and back-to-back sectionals.
Last year, the team won the first game in the regional before a heartbreaking loss in the final.
It only fired them up more this season.
A 36-point outburst by Cantu gave the Indians their semi-state title, and despite a tough loss in the state finals, Union City could look back on the team’s season as a special one.
“That was pretty incredible to be able to talk about all the records that they broke and the team success. ... It’s just an awesome ride, and it was quite an experience being able to play in the state finals,” Black said.
“Obviously, it didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but that’s an opportunity that doesn’t come around real often, to be able to say that and to be able to have that experience.”
Junior Justiss Cantu, school’s all-time leader in assists, knew when to take over
When it came to big games, Justiss Cantu always was willing to take over. When it came to making timely passes, she was happy to yield to her teammates.
■ Cantu poured in a career-high 26 points to defeat Winchester, a key win in Union City’s third straight Tri-Eastern Conference title. And she shattered that with a 36-point outburst in the team’s first semi-state championship, as the Indians made a historic trip to the Class A state championship game.
All of that and more made Cantu the Palladium- Item’s All-Area Player of the Year for the 2016-17 girls basketball season.
“I think Justiss really came on towards the end of the year,” said Union City coach Sarah Black, the All-Area Coach of the Year. “There were definitely times that if she hadn’t have been there, we wouldn’t be playing in the state finals.”
Cantu’s biggest competition for the honor was teammate Courtney Wise, while TEC Player of the Year Maddie Lawrence of Winchester and Cross County Conference Player of the Year Allie Downing of Tri-Village also were considered.
But if it weren’t for Cantu, it’s hard to imagine where Union City would have ended up.
Since her freshman year, the Indians are 6020, with a 17-2 record in TEC games. This year’s TEC record was a perfect 7-0, which might not have happened if it wasn’t for Cantu’s 26-point takeover, which led the Indians to a 59-56 win over Winchester. She scored a teamhigh 18 points in the state championship game, and her biggest performance was in an epic 6964 double-overtime victory over Marquette Catholic, punching the Indians’ first ticket to the state championship game. Cantu averaged 11.3 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.1 steals and, most importantly, 4.5 assists per game for a team that averaged 53.5 points.
“Honestly, it’s unbelievable. I cannot believe it,” Cantu said. “I’m lucky to be able to go through it, not only to go be able to go to state, but I couldn’t have asked for better people by my side and better opportunities.”
Cantu is only a junior and already is the team’s school-record holder with 358 assists. “She was able to drive when she needed to drive, shoot when she needed to shoot. She knew when she needed to do those things, and she just made a lot of things happen in big games,” Black said. “As a coach, it’s great to have a player that’s able to do that.”
Indians junior point guard Justiss Cantu averaged 4.5 assists during the 2016-17 season and has the most assists in school history (358).