In this week’s notebook, we cover Georgetown Visitation, Gwynn Park, Loudoun Valley and Paint Branch.
Georgetown Visitation wins 12th straight ISL title: The Cubs did it again. With a victory over Sidwell Friends on Thursday, Coach Mike McCarthy’s team became the 12th straight Georgetown Visitation squad to win at least a share of the Independent School League championship.
The Cubs still have two regular season games left, but they are the only undefeated team in the league, guaranteeing them the regular season title. This makes them co-champions. The winner of the league’s postseason tournament will earn the other half of that distinction.
“We don’t like the word ‘co-‘ in front of it, so we’re going to keep working in the tournament, too,” McCarthy said.
The title was clinched in a 42-32 defensive battle against the Quakers. Sophomore point guard Claire Burke led a balanced scoring sheet with 10 points, six rebounds, two assists and two blocks.
“They all knew what was at stake against Sidwell,” McCarthy said. “And they had exams the next week, so they wanted to take care of it before exams.”
Both McCarthy and leading scorer Ellie Mitchell (14 points per game) said they were unsure of how good this year’s team could be when the season got underway. The Cubs were returning only two seniors and they didn’t really have an identity.
Three months later, Visitation’s success has been built around a defense-first approach, and those two seniors — guards Julianne Greenville and Megan Nayak — have played a huge part in the team’s success.
“Since there’s only two of them, they have to play much bigger roles,” Mitchell said. “They’ve really stepped up.”
Mitchell said that it was an 11-point win over Bishop O’Connell in the second game of the season that convinced her this team had what it takes to potentially carry on the ISL-winning tradition.
“We just played with a lot of grit and we all felt comfortable,” she said.
That game would prove to be a perfect indicator of the season to come. Mitchell and sophomore forward Taylor Webster led the team in scoring that day, and they will finish the season the same way. The defense stifled O’Connell, holding the Knights to just two points in the second quarter. That tenacity hasn’t gone anywhere either as the season comes to a close.
“We’ve had so many people step up on this team,” McCarthy said. “As a coach, it’s been fun to watch.”
Paint Branch confident it can hang with unbeaten Richard Montgomery: Paint Branch is a different team now than it was Dec. 12, 2017. Coach Ravilia McMiller is sure of it. That 66-52 loss to Richard Montgomery? McMiller thinks that, if her team played the unbeaten Rockets again, the result would be different.
“We’ve grown a lot,” she said.
She has the evidence to back it up. The Panthers (17-3) haven’t lost since late December, stacking blowout win on top of blowout win. And then, of course, there was the Whitman game on Feb. 2., when Paint Branch turned a 15-point deficit into a 25-0 run and an eventual 74-65 win.
So while No. 7 Richard Montgomery attracts attention for its 20-0 record, Paint Branch is confident it can hang with the Rockets in the Maryland 4A Region.
Senior Amele Ngwafang, a Radford commit, is scoring a team-high 18.5 points per game after serving as a role player last season. McMiller credits the 6-foot-1 forward’s development in part to Ngwafang’s work with the coach’s husband, Mike McMiller. He isn’t officially part of the coaching staff, but he often dips into practice to help with skill development.
He taught Ngwafang how to pass out of double teams to set up teammates for open jumpers. He also recently gave the team a quick seminar on advanced dribbling moves. It’s not expected that players will mimic the entire sequences in games, but having the ability to whip out a fresh handle can make the difference in a tight contest, McMiller said.
“Unconsciously you’re like, ‘Oh, wow, I can see how I can use this is in a game,’ ” she said.
Loudoun Valley turns defense into offense en route to top seed in the Dulles District tournament: At first glance, Loudoun Valley’s defensive performance at Heritage on Thursday night was outstanding. The Vikings surrendered 40 points.
But they lost the game by three, and Coach Kenyamo McFarlane judges his defense by more than just points allowed.
“You can have a bad shooting night, but you can always turn defense into offense. We want to score the ball so we can steal the ball and then score again,” McFarlane said. “It’s not enough for us to limit the other team from scoring.”
The Vikings distress opposing ballhandlers with a full-court zone press and have limited opponents to 40 points or fewer in 14 of 21 games.
Despite the loss at the Pride’s senior night, Loudoun Valley (18-3) is the top seed in this week’s Dulles District tournament thanks to a pair of regular season wins over Loudoun County (18-3), who have made six of the past seven state tournaments. The Vikings are guaranteed a spot in the region playoffs while Loudoun County, Heritage, Riverside, Woodgrove, Park View and Dominion will play for the other spot in regionals in the district tournament.
“[The Loudoun County wins] catapulted our confidence. We saw that we’re one of the best teams in the area as much as they are,” McFarlane said. “The Heritage loss helps us out as a wake-up call. We need to play our brand of defense every night.”
Behind Bowman, Gwynn Park is finishing the season strong: Entering the New Year, Gwynn Park was 2-3. Coach Mike Strother had scheduled some talented out-of-town opponents, and the Yellow Jackets stumbled through a difficult early schedule. But 2018 and the start of conference play brought a chance for the team to start anew.
Gwynn Park has won 14 of its past 15 games, establishing itself as one of the strongest teams in Prince George’s County. Junior Denai Bowman and sopohomore Jenae Dublin, a transfer from Capitol Christian, lead the team with 22.5 and 15.9 points per game, respectively.
“This is a very unique group,” Strother said. “They really get along off the court and they understand what we’re trying to do on it.”
Bowman recently reached the 1,000-point mark in a game against Surrattsville. Gwynn Park alumna Brittany Crowell, the program’s all-time leading scorer at 1406 points, presented Bowman with a game ball afterward.
“She accepts and thrives in her role on this team. She’s a great leader and communicator,” Strother said of Bowman.
That Surrattsville game played out like many of Gwynn Park’s conference games have: a runaway, double-digit blowout. Strother says it’s a coaching challenge to go from games like that to Thursday’s Largo game, a tight seven-point win for the Yellow Jackets.
“In the games that aren’t close, we preach to them we need to work on things that will get us ready for someone like a Largo or a playoff team,” he said.