Covenant boys set for first trip to GISA Final Four

The Covenant Academy Rams haven’t won a state championship in their three years of playing in the GISA.

But if juniors Andretti Loyd and Josh Cooper have anything to say about things, that streak will end some time Saturday. The Rams head to Milledgeville on Thursday for a 2:30 p.m. game against Bethesda Day in the semifinals of the GISA Class A basketball tournament, with the winner advancing to Saturday’s title game.

Head coach David Raines’ Rams overcame a loss in the finals of their region tournament to rally for two wins in the state tournament, which put them in their first Final Four.

“I think the loss actually helped us,” said Cooper, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound post player. “It really made us realize that we are not invincible and that if we don’t play well, we can get beat. We took a good look at ourselves, and we decided that we would have to step it up if we were going to reach our goal of making it to the Final Four.

“We have five seniors who won’t get another chance to play in a Final Four, so it’s very important to us a team to reach our goals. Bethesda wouldn’t be here if they weren’t a great basketball team ,and I feel like I will need to be a physical presence inside to open things up for our guards. Thursday is going to be an exciting day for the entire school.”

Raines, in his first year at the school, thinks his team is ready for its first trip to Milledgeville for the Final Four.

“I think if Andretti and Gunnar Mendiola can handle their pressure, we will be in good shape,” Raines said. “They have two outstanding 3-point shooters, and they like to press and get teams down early and then put them away. We will have to be ready for them jumping out on us. Gunnar has been playing great basketball for us, and we will need his senior leadership.

“He never lets anything bother him. We are hoping for a huge crowd. We are letting everyone out of school at noon, and hopefully everyone will come see us play. I am very excited for my team to have this great opportunity. I don’t think we will be nervous in the big setting. I think we will just be excited for the chance to play again.”

Loyd, who moved from Rutland to Covenant as a ninth-grader, is averaging 17 points a game this year.

“The entire school is pumped,” Loyd said. “You can’t walk down the halls without hearing someone talking about the game or seeing a poster about it. We feel like Covenant is a basketball school, and to prove that, we need to play well in the Final Four. We consider ourselves a very close team.

“We don’t have any one player that does all the scoring. For us to be successful, we need the entire team to play well. We knew that after last year and making it to the final eight, we just really felt like we could come back this year and win it all. We want to bring a championship back here to Covenant for the entire student body.”