Anticipation was high yesterday for the members of the Gar-Field girls basketball team as they approached last night's season opener against visiting North Stafford. In fact, some team members were "bouncing off the walls" in class, according to senior center Kia Manuel.
The excitement translated into a superb first quarter, which proved to be all the No. 9 Indians needed on their way to a 70-47 win over the Wolverines in a nondistrict game.
Gar-Field was led by Manuel, who scored 21 points, 11 during a first quarter in which the Indians outscored North Stafford (0-1) by a 26-11 margin. According to Gar-Field's players and coaches, the quick start was no accident for the 12-time defending Cardinal District champions.
"School went by so slowly today," Gar-Field junior forward Nikki Wells said. "I got up at 5:30 [a.m.] and just sat up. I was ready to play. The whole team was ready to play."
The win also gave Larry Baker his first win as Gar-Field's head coach and his first as a head coach as well. He took over this year for Fred Milbert, who stepped down after 15 years as head coach.
"It's good to get it going, I think for the girls as much as anything," Baker said. "The girls have been anxious to get on the floor and start playing."
The source of that eagerness may have been the Indians' loss in the Northwestern Region semifinals to Woodbridge last year. According to Manuel--who had been to the Virginia AAA state tournament in each of her first two years at Gar-Field--that game was in her mind as she took the court last night.
And the team she was facing was no slouch. The Wolverines placed second in the Commonwealth District last season and are expected to contend for the title again. But Gar-Field proved up to the challenge.
The Indians scored 26 points in the first six minutes, with Manuel making three field goals and five free throws over that span. As a team, Gar-Field missed just three shots during the quarter. The Indians were able to take advantage of their size advantage, getting layups and drawing fouls almost at will.
The game's pace slowed after that quarter, however, as North Stafford tightened its defense, especially on Manuel. The Wolverines pulled to 30-20 with three minutes left before Gar-Field finished the half on an 11-2 run, which included a nice give-and-go from Wells to Manuel and back to Wells for an open layup.
"In the first five minutes, we all came out like we had this sugar high," Manuel said. "I think that the first quarter showed that. When you have that adrenaline high, you sort of come down a little bit, and I think that's what happened."
Manuel wouldn't get her first basket of the second half until there was 1 minute 31 seconds left in the third quarter. But Gar-Field pulled away in the fourth quarter, led by Wells, who finished the game with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Guard Joy Doggett led North Stafford with 12 points and six rebounds, and guard Christina Carmon had 10 points, eight in the third quarter.
"It was a good start for us," North Stafford Coach Patricia Oliver said. "We needed to come in here and see what we were going to be up against if we wanted to win the district, and advance to the regionals. These are the kind of teams we'll have to face. It was a good measure for us."
CAPTION: Emma Lomax, of Gar-Field, left, battles the Wolverines' Nicole Dowell during Indians' season-opening win.
CAPTION: Christina Carmon (12) has the ball stripped by Kelly Brown (54) of the Indians during Gar-Field's season-opening victory. At left, North Stafford's Leigh Swift hits the deck as Aria Jones moves in for Cardinal champion Gar-Field.