Girls’ basketball: Walter Johnson stands tall despite going small

Toni L. Sandys/THE WASHINGTON POST - Samantha Lee (right) and Walter Johnson are proving that they can win without a significant post presence.

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Walter Johnson center Kristen Larrick dislocated her kneecap at a practice last month, and the pain was bad enough that it caused her to scream for help. Larrick has developed a penchant for making her teammates laugh constantly, so guard Megan Spurrell and the rest of the Wildcats just chuckled at Larrick, thinking she was joking.

Eventually, Spurrell and the rest knew everything was about to change. Larrick, the 6-2 center who had dominated down low for the Wildcats in December, was set to miss the rest of the season – and Walter Johnson was forced to find itself despite being in a three-way tie to win the 4A South title.

(Toni L. Sandys/THE WASHINGTON POST) - The Wildcats lost leading scorer Kristen Larrick (left) for the season to a dislocated kneecap.

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Host B.J. Koubaroulis runs through the top plays from high school basketball games in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

Host B.J. Koubaroulis runs through the top plays from high school basketball games in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

“It all kind of hit us. It was a huge shock,” Spurrell said. “We were kind of all scared, like, ‘What are we going to do with the season? Is she going to be able to play volleyball? ’”

Larrick, who is headed to William & Mary to play volleyball next fall, is expected to be fully healed by this spring, but is relegated to the bench for the rest of the basketball season. After suffering a five-point loss to Wootton the day after the injury, Walter Johnson (15-5, 7-3) has transformed itself into a more guard-oriented outfit, one that has won five-straight games. In losing Larrick, the Wildcats lost 12.9 points per game and one of the best post players in the county — and a week after she went down, the Wildcats also lost second-leading scorer Melanie Ackerman (8.9 points per game) to injury for a few weeks. That displaced nearly half of the team’s scoring production.

Whitman (15-4, 8-2) claimed the division crown earlier this month, but Walter Johnson remains in second-place in the thanks to a series of close wins. Two nights after beating Bethesda-Chevy Chase by two, Spurrell had 17 in a three-point win over Churchill, and Walter Johnson showed its ability to overcome a size deficiency against Sherwood last week. The Wildcats held the Warriors to just 11 first-half points, including only two in the second quarter, and gutted out a 43-39 win.

“The division is over with, and now we’re just focused on what seed we’re going to get in the region for the playoffs,” Walter Johnson Coach Lindsey Zegowitz said. “Other girls have stepped up. . . . I’m really confident in my team.”

Spurrell expects Ackerman back this week, and that should only help the long-range game (Ackerman has hit 32 three-pointers this winter). Walter Johnson hasn’t gone completely to a run-and-gun style, but has found plenty of small surprises on the offensive end during its charge to the postseason — including four-straight double-digit scoring performances from Marisa Gilman. The Wildcats close out their regular season schedule with trips to Wheaton (6-11, 5-8) and Rockville (5-12, 5-9).

“This year it’s kind of surprising how many close games we’ve had, and I think all of that in the season is really going to prepare us for the playoffs because anything can happen,” Spurrell said. “ I think that we’re all used to those kind of games now.”

 
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