When the lights came back on, the No. 1 St. John’s Cadets quickly emerged from the locker room with the body language of a team that wanted to play basketball.
Midway through the fourth quarter of their season-opening rout of Good Counsel, the power in the gym had gone out. When it seemed the problem would not be fixed quickly, the teams agreed to end the game with the Cadets so far ahead. But the lights popped on a few minutes after that, and the Cadets wanted to finish things off.
“We felt like there were some things we didn’t do well today, so if there’s seven minutes of basketball [left], score irrelevant, we want to keep working,” Coach Jonathan Scribner said after his team won, 79-37. “To even approach what we did last year, we need to get better.”
Last year, St. John’s came close to a perfect season. It finished 32-2, winning the WCAC and DCSAA championships. Freshman guard Azzi Fudd, was named All-Met Player of the Year after averaging 24 points per game.
Fudd is one of four key returning starters, joining senior center Malu Tshitenge-Mutombo, senior guard Carly Rivera and senior guard Alex Cowan. All three are Division I talents, with Tshitenge-Mutombo committed to North Carolina, Rivera headed to Columbia and Cowan committed to Wagner.
On Friday against the Falcons, they were joined in the starting lineup by junior guard Caramina Tanedo, who missed all of last season with an injury.
“This year, we have the same mind-set,” Fudd said. “Last year is over and we need to continue it. We can’t take anything for granted.”
The Cadets will play at least 30 games this year, and their strength of schedule is such that just about every one could provide a loss and potentially derail the team’s mission.
“We’re definitely not going to be thinking we’re going to crush every team,” Tshitenge-Mutombo said. “We’re going to play every game like the championship game, pretty much.”
In December alone, St. John’s will face solid Virginia public school Edison, nationally-ranked New York powerhouse Christ the King and a full field of renowned programs at the Nike Tournament of Champions.
“I can’t imagine there’s another team in the country that has a tougher schedule than ours,” Scribner said.
Langley’s freshman point guard takes control of offense
The Langley girls’ basketball team has gone over plays more often at practices this fall than it usually does. That’s because the Saxons graduated all of their starters from last season, including first-team All-Met guard Jordyn Callaghan.
Annabeth Holsinger, Langley’s only freshman, is taking over point guard duties for a team that has reached two Virginia Class 6 title games over the past three years.
“We’re very, very young in a position we’re usually experienced in,” Coach Amanda Baker said. “The kids understand this is something we have to take as a process.”
Callaghan was a four-year starter and sunk a buzzer-beating three-pointer last year in the Virginia Class 6 semifinals. Langley lost to Cosby, 52-50, in the championship game.
Baker sees similarities between Callaghan and Holsinger in terms of their knowledge of the game. Holsinger was in contact with the program last year and attended the team’s postseason games.
Baker expects Holsinger will become more comfortable running the offense as the season progresses. Three of Langley’s other starters were reserves last year and are eager to take on bigger roles, Baker said.
Poolesville is replacing four starters from its championship team
Before the first practice of the 2018-2019 season, Poolesville Coach Fred Swick had a message for his players.
“Last year was last year,” he told them. “It’s time for you guys to set your own way.”
After going undefeated in 27 games and winning the school’s first Maryland 2A championship last year, the Falcons are starting fresh, even if the community is still buzzed from last season’s success.
The Falcons lost four starters from last year’s squad, but Swick is confident that this season’s batch of players can build off last year’s momentum and continue the winning tradition. Poolesville has not had a losing record this decade.
“I’ve been tinkering with adjusting our system to fit the talents of the kids we do have,” Swick said. “I think it may take a little longer to jell in terms of playing really well, but I’m confident that we have the talent to repeat our success.”
Guard Alli Haddaway, the lone returning starter, will lead the Falcons while Swick expects the frontcourt duo of Makayla Lemarr and Mackenzie Magaha to play major minutes and contribute. The balanced attack will be key to coming out of a tough Montgomery County region.
“It was a great ride for us last year, and the kids all enjoyed it,” Swick said. “This team is not last year’s team and we need to just focus on doing what we need to do to be successful.”
-David J. Kim
Eleanor Roosevelt aims to defend its Maryland 4A title
After winning the program’s ninth state championship in March, the Eleanor Roosevelt girls’ basketball players grouped together every week in August to condition on the school’s track before lifting in weight room.
That work ethic has driven one of Maryland’s most successful girls’ basketball programs, first-year Coach Arbrey Butler said.
“They prepare their bodies to play midway through March,” Butler said. “They don’t sell themselves short on that.”
The Raiders return four starters from last season but lost guard Ashia McCalla, who recorded 29 points and nine rebounds in Eleanor Roosevelt’s Maryland 4A championship victory over Catonsville last season.
Butler was an Eleanor Roosevelt assistant coach for six years before taking over for Delton Fuller, so he understands the Raiders’ schemes.
Forward Makayla Adams and guard Taylor McCormick headline the Raiders’ roster. Butler said Adams can play any position, which allows him to add new plays throughout the season to keep foes off-balance.
While some girls in Eleanor Roosevelt’s feeder league jump to private schools, others stick with the program that’s been a top one in Prince George’s County this century.
“They say they want to be a championship team,” Butler said, “and we hold them to that.”