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Kara Dunn draws chants of 'M-V-P' in leading Mount Paran to its first state championship

The Georgia Tech-bound wing scores 30 points in the Eagles' 54-49 win over defending Class A Private champ Hebron Christian.

By David Friedlander | Photos by Cecil Copeland

MACON, Ga. — The Mount Paran Christian partisans in the crowd at the Macon Centreplex on Saturday resounded throughout their team's Class A Private state championship game against Hebron Christian.

The chants of “M-V-P” said it all.

Kara Dunn certainly was the most valuable player for the Eagles in their 54-49 victory over the Lions.

The Georgia Tech-bound wing poured in a game-high 30 points and added six rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots to lead Mount Paran (25-4) to its first state title.

And while it's the fourth state title for Dunn's mother and Mount Paran head coach Stephanie Dunn — who led St. Pius X to three in the early 2000s — this one is special for obvious reasons.

“It's incredible,” the elder Dunn said. “I mean, I watched Kara win a state championship with the (Mount Paran) volleyball team (last fall), and it was great for me to watch. But to be out here with her and to watch her compete the way she did (Saturday), knowing that she really had to play well, and just the four years of her growing. It was just special.”

The younger Dunn and her teammates had to be at their best against a Hebron (26-6) team that got to Saturday's championship game by grinding through hard-fought wins over St. Francis in the quarterfinals and Galloway in last week's semis.

And behind seven points each from freshman Aubrey Beckham and sophomore Nickiya Daniel, the Lions stayed right with Mount Paran during a back-and-forth first half to take a 24-22 lead into halftime.

The lead grew to 28-24 after baskets by Beckham and Jessie Parish in the opening 48 seconds of the second half before Dunn began to go to work.

The 5-foot-11 senior went strong to the basket for a layup at the 6:36 mark of the third quarter to ignite a 13-2 run over the next 3:28, during which she scored 10 points and finished it off with a layup to give the Eagles their largest lead at 37-30.

“I just left it all on the floor for my team,” Dunn said. “I said two years ago we were going to win a state championship while we were here. … We've waited so long. People have underestimated us … but I knew in my heart we were the better team out there (Saturday). And I knew that if I put everything on the floor for my team, there was no doubt we could win that game.”

But Hebron rallied behind Parish, the lone returning starter from last year's state championship team and one of only two players — along with sophomore guard Amiya Porter — who saw any appreciable action in that title game.

The 6-2 Wofford-bound senior scored nine of her 15 points in the third quarter, including five late in the period that helped counter another Dunn bucket to pull Hebron within 39-35 heading into the fourth.

The Lions kept clawing and pulled as close as 44-42 following a pair of free throws by Porter with 3:36 to play.

But after missing a pair of free throws the next trip down the court, Dunn shook it off to make the pivotal play of the game on the other end.

After switching off guarding Beckham and Daniel on the perimeter most of the game, she moved down to battle Parish in the low block.

And she got in front of Parish to intercept a lob pass with 2:57 left, turning into a pair of Katelynn Dunning free throws with 2:29 remaining to give the Eagles breathing room at 46-42.

“I had to have her out trying to stop the drive because (Hebron was) beating us on the drive,” Stephanie Dunn said. “But then they decided to go inside, so I had to move (Kara) from guarding a two guard to the five because I knew she had the athleticism, and more so the I.Q. to be able to defend Parish and stop that run they were getting ready to make.

“Hebron is a team that they have the pieces and are well coached. They have fight in them, and you don't win last year and come back this year and not expect a fight from them. I knew it would be a battle.”

The Lions still had some fight in them, closing to within 52-49 following a pair of free throws by Daniel with 23 seconds left.

But Dunning connected on 2 of 4 free throws in the final 16 seconds, part of her nine free throws in 13 attempts for the game, to put the game away.

It sent the Eagles, who also got five points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots from Jessica Fields, plus eight rebounds and three assists from Shamaria Jennings, into celebration.

That included Dunn, who accepted congratulations from her future college coach, Georgia Tech's Nell Fortner, and reminisced about her first interaction with the championship trophy.

“There's a picture in our house of me as a baby with my mom and the trophy (for one of Stephanie's titles with St. Pius X),” Kara Dunn said. “I can't even explain how it feels to me. Honestly, I think I'm in shock right now. I know it's going to hit me later, but it just shows how my mom's built this program up from the ground. I was happy to come in after her first year and help her build that.”

It's a feeling Hebron coach Jan Azar understands well after winning a state title with her daughter Nicole as as starter last year.

But her attention turns to next year, when the majority of her team returns, including Beckham (15 points, nine rebounds, two blocks) and Daniel (11 points), for another shot.

“Kara's really good,” Azar said. “She's really fun to watch, plays the right way. I'm happy for her and Stephanie. We'd hoped to stop her, but she turned it on in the fourth quarter."

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