Here’s an indication that the Knights, with a 14-90 conference record the past six years, might be on the upswing: “Whether it will come to fruition or not time will tell, but my phone has not stopped ringing for two days,” said McCormick-Dix, 48, in reference to interested players and families now weighing O’Connell as a high school option.
Said one WCAC coach: “I would imagine O’Connell becoming a major player in the league very quickly.”
It has been awhile since the Knights were a factor. O’Connell won the first WCAC title in 1994 and has not returned to the championship game since, and Paul VI Catholic and Ireton, the other Virginia-based teams in the 10-school WCAC girls’ league, have never reached the championship.
In the past 12 seasons, the Knights have posted two winning records — both a game over .500 — but no winning records in the conference. They went 1-17 in the league this season. One of those setbacks was against Ireton, which had dropped 70 consecutive conference games.
McCormick-Dix, a former head coach at Madeira and Hayfield, stints that ended in 2006, is currently a 16-under coach for the Fairfax Stars. She said the O’Connell job appealed to her for many reasons. Coaching in the WCAC is something she has long wanted to do. She has some history with the school — she used to spend spring breaks with her older sister, Nancy Craig, who taught and coached swimming there. And she believes that the area’s premier girls’ basketball league should have more than the two female head coaches it currently has, with Edythe White at Carroll and Kris Sandberg at St. Mary’s Ryken.
“I see great potential,” said McCormick-Dix, who met with the returning O'Connell players Wednesday afternoon at the school. “There was a time when O’Connell girls’ basketball was one of the powerhouses in the area. There’s no doubt in my mind that with a great academic school with a long history that we can’t turn this program around.
“In Northern Virginia, there only three [WCAC] schools, and other than that, the girls have to cross the bridge. So I’m hoping that they’ll stay on this side.”
McCormick-Dix replaces Jimmy Brown, who coached the Knights for eight years. She already has hired two assistants — Jason Simpson, who coaches a 13-under Stars team, and Mickey Frece, an O’Connell graduate who used to coach in the Stars’ organization.
But she emphasized that the O’Connell program will not be a direct extension of the Stars and that she will guard against over-recruiting.
“What we intend to do at O’Connell is build a program,” McCormick-Dix said. “And if you build a program, players will come.”