Just before his girls basketball team clashed with Loudoun Valley High School for the Northwestern District regular season title Thursday night, Loudoun County Coach Bob Pingley had few words for his players.
"I didn't say much," he said. "I told them if they wanted to be champions, they had to play like champions."
The Raiders did just that, seizing control of the game early before holding off the host Vikings, 54-42, to clinch the top seed at this week's district tournament and win their second straight regular season title at 13-1 (19-1 overall).
"After winning it last year, we knew we could win it again," said Loudoun County guard Marie Bolton, whose team will host eighth-seeded Potomac Falls Tuesday night at 7 in a first-round game. "Coming here on the bus we were cheering and being hyper. We were confident, but we knew it wasn't going to be handed to us."
Using their full-court press, the Raiders kept the Vikings (16-4, 11-3) scoreless for nearly eight minutes in the first half and had a 21-7 lead with 5 minutes 44 seconds left.
"We run our offense off our press a lot," said junior guard Tara Kidwell, who had five steals and scored eight points. "That got us off to a good start."
Loudoun County slowed down in the second half. The Vikings solved the press and took advantage of an ineffective Raider half-court offense to pull within 36-32 after sophomore forward Kristen Carlson's three-point play with 58 seconds left in the third period.
So--the once-quiet Loudoun Valley fans now making their presence felt--Loudoun County needed to turn to someone to regain the momentum as the Raiders headed into the fourth quarter.
That player was Bolton.
Loudoun County's lone senior scored the team's first six points in the final quarter during a 9-2 run that ended when she sank a 15-foot jump shot with 5:11 left to extend the Raider lead to 45-34.
"It doesn't matter which one of us has the most experience on this team," said Bolton, who scored nine of her 20 points in the fourth quarter. "We all take turns leading this team at different times during the season. Tonight was my turn."
It was a fitting end to an impressive regular season for Loudoun County. Despite its relative youth, the team had four starters who were back from the 1998 Northwestern District champion squad.
"We knew we would have a good team this season," Pingley said. "This team doesn't have any stars, but we do play well as a team and that's a big reason we won. It was tough, but we stuck together."
Note: Loudoun Valley, which was led by junior center Valerie Murphy's 14 points, will be the third seed and host sixth-seeded Handley Tuesday night at 7.
Loudoun County: Kidwell 3 2-5 8, James 2 4-8 8, Bolton 8 3-5 20, Baldwin 4 1-3 9, Forsythe 2 0-0 4, Grimes 2 1-2 5. Totals: 21 11-23 54.
Loudoun Valley: Livesay 1 0-0 2, Cash 1 0-0 2, McLaughlin 3 0-0 8, Everhart 2 0-0 4, V. Murphy 5 4-8 14, Giannini 2 0-0 4, Carlson 3 1-1 8. Totals: 17 5-9 42.
Halftime: Loudoun County, 28-19.
Three-point goals: Loudoun County 1 (Bolton 1); Loudoun Valley 3 (McLaughlin 2, Carlson 1).
CAPTION: Loudoun County's Kim Grimes (50) takes a swipe at ball in hands of Loudoun Valley's Valerie Murphy (team-high 14 points) during Raiders' 54-42 win Thursday that made them top seed in Northwestern District tournament. At right, Raiders' Summer Forsythe tries for rebound against Vikings' Holly Everhart (15), Murphy (33). Raiders finished regular season 19-1, 13-1 in district; At 16-4, 11-3, Vikings are third seed in tournament that begins Tuesday night at sites of the higher-seeded teams.