Until last season, the Crossland girls basketball team was noted for its consistent performances in the Prince George's County playoffs -- it was quickly eliminated.
But last year, Crossland won not just the county title, but also the state AA championship. Eleven straight victories to end the season gave Crossland a new identity.
This year, Natalie Whisonant wants to continue leaving a lasting impression on observers that Crossland comes ready to play.
No one who witnessed the IAABO Christmas tournament could argue that fact, as Crossland swept Seton, H.D. Woodson and Churchill to win the championship. The tournament also established the Cavaliers as a legitimate contender to win the state title again.
"We went in with the goal to win and play three good games," said the soft-spoken Whisonant, voted the tournament's MVP after totaling 55 points, 28 rebounds and 10 blocked shots in the three games. "And we accomplished our goal, as you can see. It was satisfying the way we played."
Satisfying, but not enough to make the Cavaliers content.
"I did pretty good, but I can do better," added Whisonant. "Last year, we proved that we're not losers, that we could take it all the way. If we win it again, that would settle everything."
Whisonant, 5 feet 10, roams the base line as Crossland's center. She looks for openings to the basket, using her athleticism to beat opponents. She also plays aggressive defense.
"A good defense makes a great offense," said Crossland Coach Charlotte Worthy. "They get really psyched up when they cause a turnover -- it's like Christmas -- and they make something positive happen."
For Whisonant, defense is more fulfilling than scoring. "Turnovers are more satisfying because it shows how good the defense is," she said. She calls her own defensive ability "awesome."
But the Cavaliers are not solely dependent on Whisonant. Although she averages more than 18 points per game, all of the other starters are capable of such production. Seniors Charlotte Sweatt, and Anita and Vernita Wallace (15.5 ppg) all are considered Divison I college candidates for next year.
"I don't have one star," Worthy said, "I have all stars. When Natalie is out, we continue to play our game. The other girls don't rely on her.
"I expect each individual to play a little bit better in the next game than they did in the game before," Worthy added.
But Whisonant still draws the most attention from opposing teams. She's the catalyst and works on many levels. For example, "I like to talk to players on the floor," she said. "It's one of the responsibilities to myself, to talk to them and keep them settled down."
And when Whisonant gets upset on the court? "I count to 10 and then look at Miss Worthy," she said. "She doesn't like us to talk back to the referees. She just wants us to play ball."
Where Whisonant will play next year is still undecided. Like her coach, she doesn't like to look too far into the future. There is still much to accomplish at Crossland.
"I'm just worried about finishing out this season playing basketball and getting my grades up," Whisonant said. "It doesn't make much difference where I go. I just want to get in a good school and play ball."
Three years of varsity play and the team's nine-game winning streak (through Friday) allow her to talk with confidence. "We've showed that Crossland should be ranked (in the area top 20 polls). We've left our mark at Crossland and in the history books."