The Loudoun County High School girls basketball team builds everything around its relentless full-court press. Including, possibly, a second consecutive Virginia AA Northwestern District championship.
Using their quickness, their athleticism and their ability to cut down the passing lanes, the top-seeded Raiders cruised past No. 4 seed Park View, 55-34, in a district tournament semifinal Thursday at Potomac Falls to advance to last night's title game against Loudoun Valley.
What Loudoun County (21-1) did to the Patriots (11-11) was nothing new: Its press is a big reason the team has won the regular season title the past two years.
"We use it to get on teams early," said Raiders junior guard Stacy James, who scored a game-high 19 points and had six of the team's 27 steals. "It's very seldom that we have to set up our offense early in the game because our press is basically our offense."
Park View Coach Larry Simms knew that was the case, "and it still frustrated us," he said. "We practiced to play against [the press], but it still hurt us."
Loudoun County jumped out to an 8-0 lead, forcing the Patriots into turnovers in their first eight possessions and holding them without a shot until senior forward Abby Powers hit an inside jumper with 4 minutes 35 seconds left in the first quarter. Park View did change its offense in an attempt to break the press, but it didn't matter. Loudoun County took a 15-6 lead after one quarter and extended its advantage to 29-17 at halftime.
"When they made an adjustment, we made an adjustment," said Raiders senior guard Marie Bolton, who scored 10 points and had five steals. "We have the quickness to change our [press] rotation during the game. We focus on our press because everything we do feeds off of it."
Up only 12 at the half against a team it beat easily twice this season, Loudoun County put the game away in the third quarter by outscoring the Patriots 14-8 to go up 43-25 heading into the final quarter.
"I told them at halftime that I thought we were playing tense--not intense, the way we should be playing," Raiders Coach Bob Pingley said.
That was all that needed to be said.
"In the second half, each time Park View did something--even something small--to get any sort of momentum going, one of our players got a basket," Pingley said. "That really helped us."
Loudoun County--which finished with four double-digit scorers in James, Bolton, junior guard Tara Kidwell (11 points, seven steals) and sophomore forward Katie Baldwin (13 points, three steals)--has qualified for a berth in the regional tournament; it starts Tuesday night at James Madison University.
Last season, the Raiders finished 24-3, losing in the regional semifinals to Charlottesville.
Loudoun County (21-1)--Kidwell 4 0-0 11, Barthelemy 1 0-0 2, James 9 1-2 19, Bolton 5 0-2 10, Baldwin 5 3-4 13. Totals: 24 4-8 55.
Park View (11-11)--C. Doughty 3 0-0 6, M. Doughty 1 0-1 2, Lebida 0 2-2 2, Henriksen 1 0-0 2, Skinner 0 3-4 3, Powers 4 5-6 13, Nelson 2 2-3 6. Totals: 11 12-16 34.
Halftime: Loudoun County, 29-17.
Three-point goals: Loudoun County 3 (Kidwell 3).