Even as the Edison girls’ basketball team won its first nine games, Eagles Coach Dianne Lewis still never thought her squad, featuring nine underclassmen and one senior, could do what they did Saturday, winning the Virginia AAA Northern Region title, 60-52, in comeback fashion.
Sure, Christmas brought some good vibes after the Eagles captured the Lady Crusader Holiday Tournament crown. But a loss in their next game to National District foe Mount Vernon briefly extinguished their high.
“With the way we played during the Christmas tournament, I went ‘Wow,’ ” Lewis said. “But we still couldn’t figure out what made them click. I was actually surprised when we were ranked in The [Washington] Post because I wasn’t sure if we were that good yet.”
After reeling off 15 wins in their next 18 games, with two more losses to Mount Vernon sprinkled in between, Lewis found that when it comes to pushing her team’s buttons, it takes a lot less prodding and a lot more encouraging.
So was the case Saturday, when the Eagles found themselves down 17 to South Lakes in the second quarter. But rather than yelling at her freshman-laden team, Lewis built up the Eagles’ confidence with words of faith.
“Coach [Lewis] helped us stay positive and get into an attack mentality,” said freshman Jada Graves. “We just had to block out the crowd and believe that the game wasn’t over.”
Led by Graves, who scored 22 of her game-high 23 points in the second half, the Eagles surged back to secure their third region crown since 2006 and build momentum for Friday’s state quarterfinal matchup against Northwest Region runner-up Colonial Forge at 5 p.m. Friday at Robinson.
The way the Virginia High School League “super sites” are designed, the region champions do not necessarily have a home-court advantage in the state quarterfinals.
For example, the Stonewall Jackson girls, who won the Virginia AAA Northwest Region title, must face Northern Region runner-up South Lakes at Robinson, where South Lakes played its region semifinals and championship.
In the past, players from Stonewall and elsewhere have talked about how the Robinson court can be a difficult adjustment for those unfamiliar with it.
“I think [South Lakes] will be at an advantage, but we’ll tell [our players] to come out as if it’s our home court and take care of it,” Stonewall Coach Diana Martinez said. “We’ll be wearing our white jerseys, so that means we’re at home, so we should be able to play our best basketball.”
In the 56-41 region final win over Colonial Forge on Saturday, Stonewall senior guard Danielle Burns played about 10 minutes, the longest stint for the Fordham signee since recently returning from an anterior cruciate ligament injury that had kept her out until the playoffs. She hit her first three-pointer of the season shortly after entering the game.
Interesting tidbit about the Northern Region state qualifiers: Neither Edison nor South Lakes had a first-team all-region player, although Edison’s Dianne Lewis was the region coach of the year.
Edison freshman guard Jada Graves likely would crack one of those lists if there were a re-vote. She scored 76 points in the four region tournament wins, including 22 in the second half of a comeback championship victory over South Lakes.