Girls’ basketball: Gwynn Park doesn’t miss a beat despite absence of top scorer Takayla Ellis

Including this year’s 7-0 league record, the Gwynn Park girls’ basketball team is 73-6 against Prince George’s 3A/2A/1A competition since the 2009-10 season. The Yellow Jackets haven’t lost more than two games to league foes in a season during that span.

So the fact that Gwynn Park has beaten three league opponents by an average of more than 25 points per game over the past week — including perennial contenders Douglass and Crossland — and leads the 3A/2A/1A standings isn’t surprising. But maybe it should be, because the Yellow Jackets (9-2, 7-0) have dismantled their opponents without leading scorer and team leader Takayla Ellis, who has been out with an ankle injury since late December.

“When one of our best players is down, it gives kids who don’t usually get an opportunity a chance to get a lot more playing time and get into the flow of the game,” Gwynn Park Coach Mike Strother said. “Armoni Mooney, Chantelle Gross and Tashina Cardwell have really stepped up. They were playing a big role already in our system, but they just had to expand that role on defense and offense.”

Cardwell is already comparable to Ellis in terms of offensive impact. The 5-4 senior is averaging more than 17 points per game, and uses speedy athleticism — Strother believes she is one of the fastest guards in thecounty — to complement Ellis’s shooting touch when the two are both healthy.

“She runs the floor and I see her and get it down to her for layups. I always know where she is,” Ellis said. “We’ve been playing together for a while, we play AAU together, so we just have a bond.”

The top plays from the week of basketball in the D.C., Maryland and Virginia area. (Nick Plum for Synthesis/Koubaroulis LLC./The Washington Post)

Mooney, Gross, and Cardwell have had to fill in the mid-range and outside shooting void left by Ellis. The Yellow Jackets also had to make up for the loss of Ellis’s excellent court vision.

“In her absence, Armoni Mooney has really filled in that role,” Strother said. “She’s been able to distribute the ball and get everyone involved. She’s accepted that role and is really excelling in it.”

Perhaps the biggest challenge on Gwynn Park’s league schedule comes Thursday, when the Yellow Jackets head to Largo (7-5, 6-0) in a matchup of the two elite teams in 3A/2A/1A. His team may be doing just fine without its star, but Strother answered swiftly and with a confident laugh when asked if he expected Ellis to play in Thursday’s showdown.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “She’ll be back.”

Chelsea Janes covers high school sports for The Washington Post.
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