For a team that had just knocked off a ranked opponent it had lost to in 19 of its past 20 meetings, including in the Virginia AAA Cardinal District final last season, the Potomac (Va.) girls’ basketball players were remarkably subdued when the buzzer sounded Friday night, capping their decisive 61-39 home win over No. 11 Forest Park.
Maybe that business-as-usual reaction stemmed from the fact that the Panthers raced to an 11-2 lead and never trailed, with Forest Park missing its first nine shots and committing five turnovers during that span.
Or maybe, just maybe, they are beginning to believe that they can be as good as first-year Coach Tiffany Jenkins has been telling them they can be.
What’s not for Jenkins to like? The Panthers returned their top seven scorers off an 18-6 team, including three Division I signees, and got an unexpected boost when junior guard Hannah Hayes transferred back to Potomac after starting the school year in Tennessee.
Given that returning talent, and the fact that Forest Park lost five seniors off its state semifinal team, the game Friday had a bit of a changing-of-the-guard feel to it, even if it was just a mid-December game between teams that could meet as many as three more times before the state tournament.
“We’ve felt that way since the beginning of the year that we’re the team to beat,” said Hayes, who made her first three three-point attempts in the first half. “Not to be too confident, we just believe in our team. . . . Not a lot of teams can attack [Forest Park] like that.”
Senior guard Te’Shya Heslip, a Howard signee, paced the Panthers (6-0, 2-0) with 19 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, and six teammates scored between four and nine points, including center Shianne Goodwin (Furman) and guard Danielle Robinson (Northeastern).
“We just came out like it was a team we never played,” Heslip said. “So when the buzzer went off, it was just like it’s another team. But we’re still excited. . . . We wanted to jump on them early, and we weren’t taking our foot off the gas.”
Jenkins, an honorable mention All-Met as a senior in 2004 and an assistant in the program the past two years, thinks beating Forest Park might convince her players of their ability in ways that her words could not.
“I told our girls in the beginning of the season, we expect things like this throughout,” Jenkins said. “We know what they can do.
“They know they’re good now. I don’t think they had the confidence in themselves before [tonight]. I think they have that now. . . . Our girls wanted it bad, and they showed it.”
Forest Park (2-4, 2-1), whose three wins over Potomac last season were by a combined 15 points, missed 41 of 53 shots. Senior guard Lexi Carpenter, a Dayton signee, was three of 20 from the floor. Junior guard Breyana Mason led the Bruins with 21 points and 12 rebounds.
Forest Park’s four losses have been to unbeaten teams Stonewall Jackson, No. 1 Riverdale Baptist, No. 2 St. John’s and Potomac.