Seventh-grader Jackie Pierce and sixth-grader Amy Sarver, who isn't even 5 feet tall, serve as managers on the Loudoun County High School girls basketball team. If history repeats itself, a few years from now, the Raiders will be using the two Simpson Middle School students in much different positions--such as guard, forward, maybe even center.
They would be the next in a long line of Loudoun County players Coach Bob Pingley has introduced to his program by making them team managers during their middle-school years. The list includes sophomore Katie Baldwin, freshman Summer Forsythe, juniors Kim Grimes, Stacy James and Tara Kidwell and team-leading scorer Marie Bolton, a senior whom Pingley coached on a local select team.
"It gives them a chance to get exposed to [high school basketball], not so much to groom them," Pingley said. "Any kid that's interested, that's got some potential. . . . We don't have any middle school programs, so it gives them a chance to get exposed to it."
This is just one example of the things that Pingley and his players do to try and separate themselves from other girls basketball teams, one of the things that has helped the Leesburg school post a 24-2 record and advance to the Virginia AA state quarterfinals.
Pingley said he doesn't know of another girls basketball program that does the same thing with middle school players, nor is he aware of another team that practices reverse layups, or experiments with other drills only boys teams use.
And the Loudoun County players say they don't know of another team that is as close as they are, which they claim is the secret to their success.
"We've played together for like five years, starting in middle school," James said. "It's great to just play on a team where everyone knows each other. We're all friends. We all hang out together, on and off the court. It's been the experience of a lifetime, I guess."
Perhaps most important for the Raiders is Pingley's ability to get his message across. He's a demanding coach, by his own admission, but his players are tough enough to where he hasn't had to tone down his style.
"When I was in the eighth grade and a manager, I was afraid of what he would say to me when I became a player," Kidwell said. "My dad told me, 'Take in what he says, not the way he says it.' "
Pingley, who has coached basketball in the county for longer than he can remember, only started coaching girls just more than 10 years ago.
In fact, coaching girls basketball was the furthest thing from Pingley's mind even when he took a physical education class at Elon College in North Carolina that was taught by Kay Yow, now the coach at North Carolina State and one of the premier names in women's college basketball.
Pingley was the head coach of the boys team at Broad Run for six years after he graduated from college, before becoming the boys freshman coach at Loudoun County in 1981. About five years later, he also became the girls basketball junior varsity coach.
He first had become involved in girls basketball a few years before that because of his daughter, Deana, who graduated from Loudoun Valley in 1988 and went on to play at Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C. He worked with his daughter on an informal basis, then went on to coach her recreation league team and later an AAU team in Prince William County.
Pingley decided to give up the boys job in 1990 and concentrate on the girls team--first JV, then varsity--and he said it was an easy decision.
"The girls were more interested in learning the game, whereas the boys just wanted to go out there and run up and down the court and didn't want to learn fundamentals," Pingley said. "They didn't care whether you won or lost. It just got to the point where I didn't have any fun coaching that way."
Since taking over the girls varsity team seven years ago, he has gotten amazing results--particularly this past season.
The Raiders are led by Bolton, who has scored a team-leading 15.4 points a game to go with an average of four rebounds, five steals and two assists a game. Kidwell, who is 5-4, has given the team 8.2 points, 4.6 steals and 3 assists a game; the 5-5 James has averaged 9.4 points, 5.3 steals, 3.3 rebounds and 2 assists a game. Baldwin has averaged 13 points and 5 rebounds a game and has the team's best field goal percentage, 46 percent. (All five of those players started as freshmen, although Forsythe began this season on the bench behind Grimes before assuming a starting spot.)
"This has been very rewarding for me, to have the kids I've had over the last four or five years, when I'm just about on my way out and be able to retire," Pingley said. "It's just a great group of girls, and a great group of players."
Girls Basketball Playoffs
Group AA State Quarterfinals
All Games at 7 p.m.
Loudoun County vs. Bruton at Lafayette HS, Williamsburg
Jamestown vs. Turner Ashby at Bridgewater College
Carroll County vs. Heritage at E.C. Glass HS, Lynchburg
Gretna vs. Virginia at John Battle HS, Bristol