Varsity Letter

St. John's seniors come up winners in the college game

By Preston Williams
Thursday, December 3, 2009

Three St. John's College High School girls' basketball players entered a campus dining room on a recent afternoon for a mock college signing, each in a school-sanctioned skirt but one wearing a Harvard sweat shirt, one a Dartmouth sweat shirt and one a Cornell sweat shirt.

It was at that point, seeing each other bedecked in college gear and seated at a table flanked by balloons in their future schools' colors, that it fully registered with Nicola Zimmer (Dartmouth) that she, Marissa Brock (Harvard) and Joelle Davidson (Cornell) would all be playing at Ivy League universities next season.

"It definitely hits," Zimmer said after the faux ceremony. "Before, it's kind of like, oh, I'm going to Dartmouth and, oh, you're going there and you're going there. And now just the formality of it."

Three girls in the same high school starting five, and the same graduating class, bound for Ivy League schools.

"I challenge any team in the country to come up with that, boys or girls," St. John's Coach Jonathan Scribner said.

It is indeed an impressive accomplishment for the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference school, not to mention a surefire recruiting talking point for the Cadets, who open the season Thursday afternoon against Bullis.

The three players' commitments to rival colleges also could spark some good-natured trash talking, or whatever kind of talking it is that Ivy League players do, this season. The teams that have represented the Ivy League in the NCAA tournament the past three years? Harvard, Cornell and Dartmouth. The teams that tied atop the league standings in 2007-08? Harvard, Cornell and Dartmouth.

"I hope you're all still friends with each other after four years," joked Rob Zimmer, Nicola's father, as the smiling players posed for photographs.

Brock, a forward and first-team all-WCAC pick a year ago, was the first to commit, choosing Harvard in August. As a child, she spent time with a grandmother who lived near the Harvard campus. So on Brock's official visit, the Cambridge, Mass., school felt fresh and familiar at the same time.

"When I was much younger, it was a school where in the back of my mind I was like, 'I really want to go there, but I don't think I'll get in,' " said Brock, who lives in Silver Spring. "When I knew that Harvard really was a possibility, that was my top choice." Second on the list was the University of Richmond.

Zimmer, a guard from Chevy Chase, has battled injuries much of her career, so she missed the major recruiting periods. She had to rely on performances in Philadelphia with a club team to impress college coaches.

Zimmer visited Dartmouth twice before deciding to commit to the Big Green, who have won or shared four of the past five Ivy League titles. She liked that the Hanover, N.H., school was not near a major city. Columbia and Mount St. Mary's also were on her short list.

"I don't think even if I didn't have the injuries that I could have ended up at a better place than Dartmouth," Zimmer said.

Davidson, a guard from College Park, was the last to commit. Until she heard from Cornell this fall, after a showcase at Villanova, she did not know the Ivy League was going to be an option for her. At that point, she was looking more at Division II schools and small Division I schools.

Now, not only will she attend an Ivy League college in Ithaca, N.Y., she'll be able to retain a connection to two of her high school teammates, even if it's just for a quick hug in a postgame handshake line.

"I'm very close with them," Davidson said, "so it's good to know that maybe if you don't see your parents enough, that twice a year -- or four times -- you'll see a friend from high school."

When the three report to their colleges in the fall, that will make 10 Washington area women playing basketball at Ivy League schools. (Seven men from the area play in the Ivies.)

Columbia junior forward Judie Lomax (Bullis) last year led Division I in rebounding with 14.3 boards per game. Cornell sophomore guard-forward Allison Abt (Holy Child) was a league all-rookie choice. Harvard junior forward Claire Wheeler (Good Counsel) is a team co-captain. Penn has two local players, junior center Caroline Nicholson (West Springfield) and freshman guard Brianna Bradford (Reservoir). Yale forward Alicia Seelaus (River Hill) and Dartmouth guard Zakia Lghzaoui (Montrose Christian) are freshmen this season.

At the St. John's ceremony, the three players signed their names to blank pieces of paper for the sake of formality and posed for dozens of pictures. Then, as any high school students bound for rigorous academic schools would do, they assessed their priorities.

"It was fun," Zimmer said. "Now we want to get back in the gym and work to win that championship."

With that, at 4:08 p.m., three future Ivy Leaguers, their college choices determined, exited the dining room for a 4:30 practice.

Varsity Letter is a weekly column about high school sports in the Washington area. E-mail Preston Williams at

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