It was the fourth quarter of the state quarterfinals, but the body language of players from second-seeded Highland and No. 7 Denbigh Baptist suggested anything other than the fact they were playing such an important game.
Players from both teams casually walked over to their benches during a timeout, and most Highland players hardly had broken a sweat. But Hawks Coach Don O'Meara had plenty to tell his charges. Despite leads of 21, 33 and 45 points, O'Meara had to make sure his players maintained focus during their 61-18 home victory.
"We'll change to a zone, we'll talk about getting our hands up in the zone, and offensively we might not be looking for a lot of shots, but our key always is to get kids involved that haven't scored a lot," O'Meara said. "We talk about staying sharp, making crisp passes and running our offensive sets."
Such is life for O'Meara and the Hawks, who play in the Virginia Independent Schools League Division II -- they rarely know what to expect from an opponent. What hasn't been a surprise is their success. It's the 20th time Highland (27-4) has won by at least 30 points, and it might be the last this season as the competition in the state tournament figures to take a sharp turn for the better.
Tomorrow, Highland travels to Williamsburg to face Portsmouth Christian -- a team that beat Denbigh by 30 points twice this season. If the Hawks get past Portsmouth, they expect a rematch of the 2006 state final against Walsingham Academy (a 77-28 winner over Brunswick Academy on Tuesday), which has been ranked No. 1 in VISL Division II all season.
Highland players are hoping to win the first girls' basketball state title for the school. The Hawks have taken it one step further each season under O'Meara, advancing to the semifinals during his first season in 2005 and then the state championship game last season.
"Before we came out of the locker room we said 'state champions' in our huddle," point guard Courtney Brewer said.
At times O'Meara has resorted to creative tactics to make sure his team doesn't look past an opponent. Before Tuesday's game, O'Meara talked about Denbigh Baptist (15-8) as if it were extra motivated for a victory, and an assistant coach told the players Denbigh would be bringing two bus loads of fans.
Denbigh might have been determined to beat Highland, but it didn't bring that many supporters, and any chance it had of an upset disappeared in the first quarter as the Hawks built a 20-2 lead. Junior Denae Davis, the Delaney Athletic Conference Player of the Year, scored 11 of her game-high 25 points in the quarter, and Highland appeared well on its way to another routine victory.
"I'm actually really shocked by how much we beat them by," said O'Meara, who had four players ill. "Offensively I still didn't think we played well. We got a little stagnant on offense, and that might have been my fault with some of the play calling."