West Springfield's girls basketball team survived its first major test without departed national player of the year Kara Lawson last night at Langley. And even in a 49-38 victory, the fifth-ranked Spartans saw how different life will be without her.
West Springfield's pressure defense forced Langley (1-1) into 24 turnovers and 30 percent shooting, and senior guard Kathy Wainwright scored a game-high 13 points to lead the Spartans (2-0). West Springfield, which lost four starters from last season's 30-0 Virginia AAA state championship team, won its 32nd consecutive game and has compiled an 85-2 record since the 1996-97 season.
Still, it took the Spartans until 3 minutes 13 seconds remained in the third quarter to reach Lawson's 1998-99 average of 26 points. Junior wing Ginny Horner's 16-foot jumper from the left side gave West Springfield a 27-17 lead.
The Spartans compensated on the defensive end, forcing turnovers and tough shots from the Saxons. Langley was led by senior guard Joni Mertz, who scored 11 points and was the only Langley player to reach double digits.
"Our defense this year is really going to be the key," Wainwright said. "We don't have a shooter who's going to score 25 points a game. It's definitely going to be spread out. Some nights we're not going to shoot well and our defense will be what makes our points."
Langley, which turned over the ball 15 times in the first half, did not get a field goal until 3:06 remained in the first quarter--and it gave the Saxons a 3-2 lead.
"This was definitely a learning experience," Langley Coach Cheryl Buffo said. "You need to come ready to play from the opening tip. We can't panic when we're tested by good teams. As the year goes on, we'll need to settle down. We held them to 21 points in the first half, but shot 5 of 24."
Leading by eight late in the third quarter, West Springfield went on a 10-2 run, sparked by six points from reserve guard Leia Roach. The spurt put the Spartans up 42-26 with 4:36 remaining. A 7-0 Langley run brought the Saxons to within 45-35 with 1:45 to play but got no closer.
"Some of us maybe were a little doubtful that we could be competitive," said sophomore point guard Selia Monroe, who scored nine points and takes over Lawson's position. "But now that we beat Langley, we maybe shut a lot of people up and now are a lot more confident in ourselves."
Said West Springfield Coach Bill Gibson: "It's only the second game. We did stuff tonight we didn't even practice. We handled it pretty well. We made a couple of bad decisions, but we did what we needed to do."