Girls’ basketball: Battle-tested Damascus visits unbeaten Poolesville

The dominant storyline entering last weekend’s matchup between Montgomery County powers Damascus and Paint Branch was the unfamiliarity between the two schools, which play in different classifications and hadn’t met since 2009. The Swarmin’ Hornets muscled their way to a 67-58 win over the then-No. 3 Panthers, another impressive non-league win in what has been a foreign, challenging schedule through the first month of the season.

Damascus has met top-10 opponents from Prince George’s County and the WCAC, and has already traveled to Delaware to play stiff out-of-state competition.

“We expected a challenge, a greater challenge than last year because we are playing harder teams,” Damascus forward Kelli Prange said. “I think we were really prepared for it, come our first game.”

Familiarity won’t be an issue Monday night, however, in what could be a season-turning road game against rival Poolesville (8-0, 3-0). The Falcons’ gym is among the toughest places to play, according to Damascus Coach Steve Pisarski, an atmosphere that is small and loud in equal measure. Facing an undefeated squad won’t help, either.

“You make these goals every year. . . and one of those goals is winning your division. And if we’re going to do that, we have to be able to beat Poolesville,” Pisarski said.

The top plays from the weekend of high school basketball in the D.C. area. (Nick Plum for Synthesis/Koubaroulis LLC./The Washington Post)

Poolesville has rolled through its opponents the first month of the season, winning seven of eight games by double-figures. The Falcons boast one of the county’s best guards in Whitney Carmack, a 5-foot-6 dynamo who is averaging 18.9 points per game.

“She’s pretty much scored in every way imaginable,” Poolesville Coach Fred Swick said.

Carmack has hit 13 three-pointers in her last five games, including six en route to a combined 37 points in wins over Western Tech and Oakland Mills last week. She is complemented by veteran guards Anna Murgia and Rosie Barry, who each average about nine points per game and who are familiar with Damascus’ experience in the backcourt.

“It’s an uphill fight for us. I thought going into the season, I actually thought last season as well, that Damascus was the best team in Montgomery County,” Swick said.

The point in designing a difficult early-season schedule is to prepare for 3A/2A tests like Monday’s game, said Pisarski, whose team opened the season with a loss to then-No. 2 St. John’s. The eighth-ranked Swarmin’ Hornets (8-2, 2-0) rebounded a week later with wins over last season’s VISAA runner-up Liberty Christian and then-No.8 Bowie, and added wins over Watkins Mill and Padua (Del.) in late December before getting a long-awaited win over Paint Branch Saturday.

Damascus certainly had the depth and experience to handle to rigors of last month’s schedule, returning four college prospects to its starting lineup from last year’s state semifinalist team. The 6-foot-4 Prange and fellow senior Lauren Green combined for 46 points and 19 rebounds in the win over the Panthers Saturday, and will try to establish a physical advantage against the Falcons. After Prange committed to George Washington this summer, she started putting more emphasis on weight lifting and strength training to prepare for college competition. She is starting to see the fruits of her labor through 10 games this winter, and playing against quality competition has only helped the cause. That will continue Monday night against her team’s rival.

“Going to their gym is just really an energy boost for us,” Prange said. “Getting it inside, like we’ve been doing the last couple of games, that what we’ve really been focusing on.”

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