When a basketball team needs a leader, it usually turns to its upperclassmen. But the members of Mount Vernon High School's women's varsity team look to sophomore center Chris Moreland, who is the major reason the team is headed for a Gunston District championship.
Classmates as well as teammates look up to Moreland--and not just because she's 6 feet 1. Moreland, who has led Mount Vernon to a record of 13 wins and four losses so far this season, has the kind of statistics on and off the court that already have colleges sending her letters. She earns straight A's at Mount Vernon despite a demanding athletic schedule.
"She's more mobile than anyone her size I've seen," says Mount Vernon coach Gary Young, beginning a litany of her skills. "Very quick. She goes to the basket well. She'll drive around an opponent who plays her one on one. . . . She dribbles well. Chris could bring the ball up the floor for us if she had to. She's very agile."
It should be noted that Young, a physics teacher, is not prone to exaggeration. In fact, he is low-key about his young star because, he explains, she is uncomfortable with publicity. But Moreland's performance last year, when she averaged 17 points a game as a freshman, assured her of attention this season.
Opponents in particular are aware of Moreland. It is not unusual for her to be double- or triple-teamed. Young says that Mount Vernon's four losses this season were primarily due to "not getting the ball to her as much as we should have."
When she gets the ball, Moreland knows how to put it in the basket. She has averaged 27 points a game this season, hitting 60 percent of her shots from the floor. Her foul-shooting success is over 70 percent, and she pulls down an average of 12 rebounds a game.
Asked about team offense, Young deadpans: "I like them to run, but sometimes they do and sometimes they don't. So then I like for us to just get someone to shoot so Chris can rebound and put it back up."
Moreland's success in basketball comes from seven years' experience in youth leagues and front-yard play at home against her father and older brother, James Moreland senior and junior, both of whom stand 6 feet 2. She also competes with her sisters. Jean, at 5-8, is a junior on the Mount Vernon varsity team; Sharon, also 5-8, is a freshman on the junior varsity.
Moreland, now 16, says coordination was a problem when she was younger. The summer before entering fifth grade she grew six inches.
"I went back to school and I was taller than everyone," she laughs. "It took a few years to grow into it."
At about age 12, Moreland says, she realized that she "loved to play," and she was "always going out and shooting some hoops." After her phenomenal freshman season, she was invited to play on the Northern Virginia Amateur Athletic Union team, which competed nationally last summer.
The AAU team began practicing two nights a week in the spring, which caused a time problem for Moreland, who also played on Mount Vernon's varsity softball team that season.
"Sometimes I'd have softball for two hours after school and then I'd go to AAU practice," she says. "Then I'd go home for dinner and it wasn't until 9:30 or so before I'd get to my homework. It was a trying time."
Despite her busy sports schedule she made all A's and still found time for weekly religion instruction. And the AAU team came in second in the nation last summer.
Moreland says she hasn't chosen a college major yet, but her favorite classes are biology and math. She plans to play AAU ball again this summer, but she may not play softball. Instead, the varsity soccer coach wants her--she's a goalkeeper.
Oh, yes. Moreland also ran varsity cross-country last fall, mainly to stay in shape for basketball, her first love. "Sometimes Coach Young worries and asks me if I'm still having fun," she says. "I always say, 'Yeah, coach, I'm still having fun.' I just enjoy playing."