The Washington Catholic Athletic Association standings have tightened up in recent weeks, with the league’s top three teams — Paul VI, Elizabeth Seton and St. John’s — taking turns beating up on each other. But in rising to the fourth slot this past weekend, Holy Cross has quietly become one the conference’s best stories in the middle of the year, using a six-game winning streak to atone for a rocky start to the season.
“Kind of like a fresh start,” senior center Rhamat Alhassan said. “We want to win the WCAC.”
Holy Cross (9-10,6-4) is fresh off of two wins in two days over the weekend, which includes a five-point win over Carroll on Friday and a six-point victory over Bullis on Saturday. The latter materialized thanks to a career night by Michigan recruit Jillian Dunston, who scored 30 points and hit a school-record seven three-pointers. The Tartans exploded for 41 points in the second half, and held on despite a strong performance from Bullis center Lynee’ Belton, who had 24 points and 11 rebounds.
It was the kind of win that eluded Holy Cross in December, when the team opened the season with back-to-back losses and later in the month struggled through a five-game losing streak. The final three were particularly crushing, as the Tartans dropped three straight to perennial league powers Paul VI Catholic, Elizabeth Seton and Good Counsel by a combined 11 points.
Even with the misfortune, Holy Cross still carried the pieces to be a league contender. Dunston has been one of the WCAC’s most productive offensive players (she has scored in double figures in 12 games this season), and the 6-foot-5 Alhassan has the capability to post a double-double any time she touches the floor. She posted 20 points and 10 rebounds against Paul VI and another 17 and 12 against Good Counsel — but there was still something missing, she said.
The team was still learning each other’s habits and not playing with any rhythm, Alhassan said. A six point win over Bishop Ireton later in early January was a step forward as the Tartans scored 80 points, marking an offensive resurgence that hasn’t let up since.
“We’ve started to take it more seriously,” said Alhassan, who will play volleyball at Florida next year.
Alhassan has been terrific during the turnaround – she had 16 points and 11 rebounds against Carroll – and Dunston has averaged 18.6 points in her last three games. Holy Cross has proven it can win close games during its winning streak, winning four of its last six by eight points or fewer. The litmus test comes this week, with matchups against No. 4 St. John’s and No. 4 Paul VI.
“We’ve played them once. We know who their big kids are and what we can do against them, what we can’t,” Alhassan said. “We just have more information on them.”