After spending two seasons at Holy Cross, which has one of the area’s top girls’ basketball programs, Jackie Jackson and her family decided it was time for a switch. She had gone to the Kensington private school with the hope of playing against elite competition in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, drawing college recruiting interest and receiving a good education.
But when attending the private school became a financial strain and playing time became an issue, Jackson said she made the fairly easy decision to switch to Gaithersburg, her neighborhood high school.
Even though the competition on the court hasn’t been the same, Jackson, now a senior, understood that her summer AAU team was where she would garner college coaches’ attention.
“You get more experience during the summer and you get the same amount of exposure there,” said Jackson, a 5-foot-11 forward who has signed with Temple. “There are a lot of athletes in our public school here.”
Private school programs continue to attract many of the area’s top girls’ basketball players — top-ranked Riverdale Baptist, for instance, fields a starting lineup made up entirely of Division I recruits — but their impact isn’t felt as strongly as it is in boys’ basketball. During the past six seasons, nearly two-thirds of the girls’ players named first-team All-Met by The Post (37 out of 60) have come from public schools. Only four public school players were first-team All-Met last season, the fewest in at least 25 years.
Some outposts of public school talent remain. Sixth-ranked Gaithersburg, the defending Maryland 4A champion, is one of four ranked public school teams that will feature two Division I signees this winter. The Trojans — who finished as the region’s only undefeated girls’ team last season behind All-Met guard Kara Marshall, who’s now starting at Loyola (Md.) — have Jackson and Marshall’s sister Colleen, who’s headed to East Carolina.
All-Met senior guard April Robinson (Duquesne) and senior forward Logan Battle (Georgetown) start for No. 5 West Springfield, while All-Met guard Caroline Coyer and her twin sister Katherine (both Villanova) lead No. 9 Oakton. Eighth-ranked H.D. Woodson has two seniors who have signed with Providence: forward Jephany Brown and guard Chanel Green.
Across the D.C. region, coaches say reasons for players staying in the public ranks ranges from the quality of the schools to the strength of the coaches to the girls’ desires to stay with their neighborhood friends.
In Fairfax County, West Springfield’s Bill Gibson, a two-time All-Met Coach of the Year who has won two state titles and produced seven players who were named All-Met in his 26 years at the school, was among the main reasons that Battle, one of the region’s top players, opted to attend her neighborhood high school instead of playing in the WCAC. The quality of Fairfax County schools was also a factor.
“I see a lot of movement to private schools in Maryland where there seems to be more of a pull because more of the private schools are in there,” said longtime Oakton Coach Fred Priester, the 2009 All-Met Coach of the Year. “They feel like it’s a really important alternative to them. In Northern Virginia, it’s not convenient. We have some kids go to O’Connell or Paul VI. But we don’t have the McNamaras, Holy Crosses and St. John’ses.”
For Jackson, playing for her public high school still has its benefits. She is around her childhood friends and doesn’t feel like she has jeopardized her basketball future.
“I think the misconception is about where you go and where you are going to play,” she said. “For me, I went to private school for that reason, but they’re stacked and there’s a lot of talent there. It doesn’t make sense to go to private school to sit and wait.”