Canaan Christian Academy goes undefeated at the 31st Annual NPCA Invitational

Canaan Christian Academy's girls varsity basketball team has now officially closed out one of the most successful seasons in school history.

The Lady Eagles got off to a slow start this winter, losing three of their first seven games. However, Coach John Ashley's squad turned things around after the Christmas break and morphed into one of the best teams in the state.

“We only lost two games the rest of the way,” Coach Ashley said. “I'm so proud of this team. The girls never got down on themselves. They stayed focused, kept working hard and overcame a lot of adversity.”

Canaan finished up the 2018-19 season on a high note, going unbeaten at both the KCEA state tournament and the NPCA Invitational.

With these wins, the local lasses wound up with an 18-5 overall record.

“I'm sad that the season is over because we really hit our stride, especially the last month or so,” said Coach Ashley, who's now been patrolling the sidelines at CCA for 19 years.

“From a team standpoint, this is the best group I've ever coached. They'e never stopped improving from Day One of practice until the last game.”

Leadership

Any discussion of this year's Canaan Christian Academy hoops team must begin with its leaders.

Heather Lamberson, Hannah Chapman and Emily “Shoes” Hughes are all seniors and each was chosen to serve as a team captain this season.

“They're irreplaceable,” Coach Ashley said. “I have no words for what Heather, Hannah and Emily meant to this team the past few years.

“They were outstanding leaders on and off the court. It just seemed to come naturally to them. They took the younger girls under their wings and helped them along. It was wonderful to sit back and watch.”

Lamberson paced the Lady Eagle assault at both ends of the floor. Heather was CCA's top scorer at just over 12 points per game. She also set a school record for steals (110) and led the squad in assists.

“I can't say enough about how Heather grew into her role this year,” said Coach Ashley. “This was her first season playing point guard and she really embraced it.

“Heather is always calm no matter what the situation might be. She has a great deal of confidence and very good leadership skills.”

Chapman evolved into Canaan's most vocal leader this year. She was a solid all-round player who led the team in free throw shooting and became a force to be reckoned with on the glass.

“Hannah used to shy away from contact a little bit, but boy did that change this year,” Coach Ashley said. “She battled with the best of them on the boards. Hannah was fearless and tough and she never backed down from anyone.”

Hughes was Canaan's defensive specialist. Emily worked tirelessly to harass opposition guards, earning high marks from her veteran mentor.

“Emily didn't get a lot of headlines, but man did she play a huge role on this team,” Coach Ashley said. “She's a very smart player who never seems to get flustered in any situation.”

Titletown USA

Canaan has been nothing short of a hoops juggernaut over the course of the past decade or so.

In fact, since the 2005-06 season, the Lady Eagles have won nine state titles, two at the Class AA level and now seven in AAA.

CCA defeated Walnut Christian in the semifinals and West Chester in the title tilt to capture this year's KCEA championship.

Coach Ashley's squad then returned home to compete in the 31st Annual NPCA Invitational tourney, an event that attracts both boys and girls teams from all over the region.

This year's team entered the fray ranked fourth in the AAA bracket, but once again powered its way to a gold medal showing.

Canaan has now won this particular tournament 12 times in the past 14 years.

“I really have no words for what a wicked awesome season this was,” Coach Ashley said. “I love these girls and I'm extremely blessed to be their coach.”

CCA tipped off its quest for another NPCA title with a dominant performance against Bloomsburg. The Lady Eagles rocketed out to an 18-3 first quarter lead and never looked back en route to a 48-30 victory.

Brianna Smith led the attack in this one. The sophomore center rattled the rims for a game-high 19 points. She also hauled in eight rebounds and blocked five shots.

Smith set a single-season school record this year with a total of 94 blocks.

“Brianna had a great season and I'm excited to see what she can do over the next couple of years,” said Coach Ashley.

By virtue of this win, Canaan advanced to the semifinals and a date with top-seeded Triboro.

The Lady Eagles led 12-8 after one and 23-17 at halftime. They then held off a desperate rally to deal the deal on a 46-35 decision.

Lamberson paced the CCA assault in this one, tickling the twine for a team-best 14 points while also grabbing seven boards and snagging five steals.

Celia Sheard played a key role as well, scoring 13 points and handing out four assists.

On the Dais

Canaan took on second-seeded Lebanon in the championship game and was pushed to the very brink by a well-balanced Panther squad.

The Lady Eagles were stone cold offensively in the early going and found themselves staring at a 9-0 deficit with 1:45 remaining in the opening stanza.

However, Coach Ashley called a timeout and his girls re-grouped. Smith, Lamberson and Chapman all responded with baskets.

Then, when Celia Sheard drained a deep trey at the buzzer, the score was suddenly tied 9-9.

“I couldn’t have been prouder of the girls,” said Coach Ashley. “There was no hint of panic, fear, or nerves. They just went back out there and calmly took care of business.”

The lead see-sawed back and forth the rest of the way before Canaan finally put it away thanks to late game buckets by Lamberson, Chapman and Smith.

The final score was 34-29

For her efforts, Heather was named Most Valuable Player of the Tournament, while Hannah and Brianna were each named to the All-Tourney Team.