At 28 years old, Rochelle Coleman has been involved with Paint Branch girls’ basketball for half her life.
As an All-Met guard, Coleman led the Panthers on the court for four seasons, capping her career with the 2001 Maryland 3A title. She moved on to Syracuse University, but continued to come back and help coach the team’s summer league squad. After a brief pro career, she spent the past two seasons as Paint Branch’s junior varsity coach.
When the Burtonsville school needed to fill the varsity job after last season’s forgettable seven-win campaign, it’s no surprise that athletic director and former girls’ basketball coach Heather Podosek looked to Coleman to lead the turnaround.
In Coleman’s first season, Paint Branch (5-0) has begun the process of restoring the winning tradition. With Friday’s 58-49 win over previously unbeaten Whitman, the Panthers are one of just three undefeated teams remaining in Montgomery County.
“Coach Coleman came in with a winning mentality,” senior Brigette Ocran said. “She keeps us motivated no matter what. She knows how much girls’ basketball means to our community, and she makes sure we’re always working hard.”
Coleman hopes last season proves a minor detour in the team’s otherwise impressive recent run. Paint Branch averaged 23 wins during the four seasons before last year and captured the Maryland 3A title in 2008.
The Panthers seemed poised for another deep postseason run last season led by Division I recruits Brene Moseley (Maryland) and Kenia Cole (Hampton). But both players suffered ACL injuries in the offseason and neither played a game.
The team struggled from the outset, losing eight of its first 10 games. It capped a disappointing season with a first-round playoff loss to Churchill.
“We don’t want to be in that position again,” Coleman said. “They just didn’t adjust well to change. They’re 15, so it can be tough. They’re learning that you need to keep pushing, keep going through that adversity.”
Coleman made sure the team knew she was ready to turn the page when she designed t-shirts emblazoned with the acronym GRIND — Get Ready It’s a New Day.
She’s assembled a staff with two other former Panthers and spent more time teaching defense and on-court communication — the team’s calling cards during her successful playing career under Podosek.
During a recent interview, Coleman stopped mid-sentence to laugh at herself for sounding ‘like Tim Tebow’ as she used several coaching platitudes to discuss her team’s continued progress.
But so far the approach has paid off. The Panthers have allowed 45 points per game in the early going — an almost 10-point per game improvement over last season.
Ocran, an Army recruit, has led the squad, offensively, averaging 15.2 points per game, while Springbrook-transfer Kiara Colston, a sophomore guard, has pitched in nearly 13 points per game in the perfect start.
“Last year we weren’t really ready as a team to take the step and work as hard as we needed to,” Ocran said. “I guess this year we all decided we aren’t going to have another season like that.”
After graduating its point guard and top post player, Urbana needed to retool the rotation that produced back-to-back 4A West titles. The 18th-ranked Hawks are still figuring out the details, but it’s hard to argue with the results. They improved to 4-0 with Friday’s convincing 59-38 win over defending 3A champion Frederick.
Senior guards Peyton Carper and Cara Mason — the team’s top scorers last season — have combined for more than 60 percent of the team’s offense by averaging more than 38 points per game. Coach Jessica Mills expected the pair to shoulder the offensive load, but she credited the development of the team’s supporting cast as the driving force behind the fast start.
“From the end of the season last year to the beginning of this year, I’ve been talking about how people are going to have to step up,” Mills said. “They might not be scoring a lot yet, but some of our other girls are playing really well.”
Urbana’s path back to the state tournament at UMBC might be even tougher this time around now that they’ve moved down to 3A. Many of the top MVAL Piedmont programs, including Frederick, play at that level, and Damascus returns almost all of its players from the squad that lost to the Cadets in last season’s 3A West final.
With a long way to go, Mills has focused the group on finding the balance that can fuel another deep postseason run.
Mason has taken over point guard duties, filling the role vacated by Mari Kordell (MIT). Carper, an honorable mention All-Met pick last year, scored a season-high 25 points against the Cadets, and Mills noted the team is asking more from her defensively this season.
“We’re working on consistency and having that consistent play each and every night,” Mills said. “Any given night, all the teams in our conference are strong and talented. If we overlook anyone, we know that we’ll get knocked off.”
Before hosting its own Landon Winter Invitational from Dec. 28-30, the Landon boys’ basketball team is playing three games this week in Puerto Rico.
“St. Albans went on a similar trip last year and I talked to [former coach] Duane [Simpkins] about it,” Bears Coach Andy Luther said. “I looked at it to see what made sense for what we needed and wanted as a team and what those guys did last year. I wanted to make sure we were challenged. I’d rather go 0-3 than go 3-0 against cupcakes.”
So with exams over, Landon (2-3) will play in the Puerto Rico Classic, a three-day showcase with games against Puerto Rican teams.
“Rather than go all the way down there to play some team from Delaware that we could just drive to Delaware and play, I said I wanted to play three teams from Puerto Rico,” Luther said, noting that the estimated $1,000 per player cost of the trip is being shared by the players, the school’s athletic department and fundraising efforts. “It’s a basketball trip, it just happens to be in a warmer climate. We will take an excursion to the rainforest. We’ll learn about the history of San Juan. So there will be an educational component. And we will also find the beach.”
Lou Wilson felt like a celebrity after earning his 500th career victory. The Riverdale Baptist boys’ basketball coach got the game ball after the win and received a cake at the Crusaders’ next game. He got a standing ovation before one game and received a proclamation from Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker before another.
“You know these rock stars, they go on those little tours, or Michael Jordan on his last leg and he’s retiring and he goes gym to gym and gets all these accolades? That’s how I felt,” said Wilson, 52, who began coaching basketball in 1983 at Douglass High. “It’s been a pretty cool ride.”
Behind guard Brandon Peel, forward Milan Durant and point guard Keon Hill – all seniors – the 11th-ranked Crusaders are 9-2 entering Thursday’s game against Ballou. Wilson reached No. 500 with a 66-13 victory at Eastern on Dec. 8 and now has a career record of 504-204 with one Maryland state championship.
“This year’s team is probably one of the best teams I’ve had at Riverdale,” said Wilson, who is in his 12th season at the Upper Marlboro private school after stops at Douglass and Largo. “We’ve very deep, very talented. We have a good mixture of seniors and underclassmen.”
The on-court celebration that followed Loudoun Valley’s 49-41 home victory against Woodgrove may have appeared, on the surface, to be a bit over the top for an early-season AA Dulles District win over a second-year boys’ program. But after toiling through six long years in the AAA Cedar Run, you’ll have to forgive the Vikings and their fans for relishing the chance to enjoy a little home cookin’ for a change.
Three nights after rallying from an early 20-7 deficit to beat their new Purcellville rivals, the Vikings went on the road and knocked off two-time defending Virginia AA Division 4 champions Potomac Falls. But “on the road” is a relative term for a team that spent the last six seasons making 80-mile round trips to face district opponents in Manassas, Fauquier and Culpeper.
Back in the Dulles District this winter, all of a sudden the Vikings have gone from district middling to league favorites. They carried a perfect 9-0 mark into Monday’s matchup with Briar Woods.
“It’s great for our kids to be back in proximity, closer to home,” Vikings 10th-year coach Chad Dawson said. “Getting home at 10 instead of 11:30 after an away game makes a difference. And now it’s a do-able drive for students and fans to come out and support us.”
Low-scoring, grind-it-out affairs became the Vikings’ formula for success against the quicker teams they faced in the Cedar Run, and that focus on the defensive end is paying dividends. Loudoun Valley is allowing only 42.3 points per game this season, and has given up more than 50 points just twice.
Forcing one-shot possessions is the defense’s aim every time down the court and a front line that features a trio of 6-foot-6 players in senior John Yoxthimer, junior Josh Grimard and sophomore Paul Rowley is dominating the defensive backboard.
“It’s like we were stretched in a machine — for a lot of them, their wing spans are longer than their height,” Dawson said. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a team that’s this good defensively, and we know we have to continue to be.”
Meantime Yoxthimer — an inside-outside threat who is leading the team in scoring for the third straight season — is finally getting consistent support on the offensive end. Yoxthimer still leads the team at just under 19 points per game, but Grimard (13.3), and junior forward Jovon Miller (9.4) give the team its most balanced attack in years....
The wave of excitement generated by the Briar Woods football team’s run to a second consecutive AA Division 4 championship had everyone in Brambleton feeling Falcons fever earlier this month. But one group of fans couldn’t wait for the Falcons’ season to end: the school’s basketball team.
Thanks to scheduling cooperation from fellow Dulles District contenders Woodgrove and Potomac Falls, the Falcons were able to bump back the start of their season long enough to await the arrival of five players from the football team. They finally opened their season last week, blowing past Battlefield and Park View. Led by spark plug senior point guard Myles Tate, (27 points per game), the Falcons hope linebacker/power forward Matt Rolin, defensive back/shooting guard Yves Kouame and the rest of their two-sport stars can carry over the momentum from the field to the court.