As Expectations Crest, For Lee, the Time Is Now

By Preston Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 6, 2007

The five-year plan that Lee girls' basketball coach Rudy Coffield laid out upon taking the job five years ago is now down to a this-year plan.

Coffield has announced he will leave the program at end of the season, as will his talented senior class. With that in mind, the Lancers have plans all right -- plans to reach the Virginia AAA Northern Region final and advance to the state tournament for the first time since 1991.

"They know what the opportunity is that's ahead for them," said Coffield, who will step down to spend more time with his young grandson but will remain the Fairfax County police officer assigned to the school. "I told the seniors this is the year to leave their mark."

Even though the Lancers have their top six scorers back from an 18-4 team that won the Patriot District regular season title, they can still pass themselves off as underdogs.

They are not the Northern Region favorites. That would be two-time defending region champion Edison, with Division I-bound forwards Adria Crawford (Georgetown) and Chasity Clayton (Florida State). Nor is Lee the Patriot favorite. That would be T.C. Williams, with All-Met junior guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, who led the Titans to a state berth as a freshman.

So outside the program, the expectations for Lee might be a bit tempered. Inside, it's now or never.

"We don't have to harp on people acknowledging us, but we just want people to notice us," senior forward Jay Babineaux said. "We want to be noticed, so they won' t look at us like, 'Oh, that's the same old Lee [from] back in the 1990s that loses all [their] games.' Is this for real or is it not? They're trying to see if we can take on that challenge."

Senior guard Kashei Hopkins (15.1 ppg, 36 three-pointers), Babineaux (14.2 ppg) and junior guard-forward Kristine Mial (13.8 ppg) give Coffield perhaps the most proven trio in the region. The Lancers' next three highest scorers from last season also return -- senior guard Brittany Gropp, junior guard Priscilla Moseh and senior forward Jeanette Bayoumi.

In addition, junior guard Jacqueline Williams, a two-year starter at South County, has transferred to Lee.

Last winter, the Lancers beat eventual region semifinalist Marshall early and swept T.C. during the regular season (absorbing a 36-point performance by Ruffin-Pratt in the first win) before losing to the Titans in the district semifinals. Lee also lost to West Springfield and South County but avenged those defeats later in the season.

The win over West Springfield was the first in more than a decade, and it was a victory that the Lancers needed more psychologically than in the standings.

"It made us a lot more confident because we know that we can actually play with the Oaktons, the T.C.s, the Edisons, and compete with them now," said Hopkins, who has missed time this preseason with a knee injury.

A postseason coincidence: When the Lancers last reached the state tournament, in 1991, led by Duke-bound center Zeki Blanding, they were eliminated in the quarterfinals by Phoebus and its star, LaKeisha Frett, who remains the state's all-time leading scorer. Oakton, the team that knocked out Lee in the Northern Region quarterfinals last year, featured Jasmine Thomas, who graduated as the second-leading scorer in state history.

So the Lancers have run into some particularly tough competition in the playoffs. This season, they might be the team that others want to avoid.

Lee supporters "are expecting more of us this year, and they're expecting us to get to states, so anything less would be a letdown," Hopkins said. "Pressure makes us do better and makes us want to make people proud of us."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company