Walter Johnson finished 18-7 a year after going 4-16. (Xan Korman)

Three Walter Johnson players slipped out of the Richard Montgomery High gym after losing in the Maryland Class 4A regional finals and sauntered back to the locker room with their arms around each other. There was a sense of pride and swagger in their demeanor, so much so that you might mistake them as winners of the game.

“Last year, we were 4-16,” a player said. “This year, we made it to the regionals. It was a good run.”

It wasn’t just one bad year the Wildcats reversed. They endured nearly a decade of losing, including a winless season in 2015. Their 2018-19 ride, which included winning the Montgomery County 4A South Division for the first time since 1998, shocked the local community.

When the Wildcats dropped their first two games of the year to Richard Montgomery and Paint Branch, they had lost 19 of their last 20 games. But first-year coach Kevin Parrish implemented new schemes and they began to pile up wins.

“It was exactly what we needed this year,” Philip Stubin said of his coach. “We believed in him and he believed in us.”

Things changed for the Wildcats (18-7) after they lost to a well-respected Magruder team. Though the final margin was 17, the score was close for most of the game.

“After that, mentality had completely shifted,” Parrish said. “We can compete with really good teams. There’s no one secret ingredient. It was just getting the kids to believe more in themselves.”

Following the holiday tournament, the Wildcats throttled Einstein by 29 points and beatWhitman, which it hadn’t knocked off in nearly a decade, by 15. After a win over Seneca Valley by 34 points in an away game in December, Hank Roll reminded his teammates that the last time they played at Seneca Valley two seasons ago, they lost by more than 50 points.

“I still can’t wrap my head around it. We went from being so bad to so good,” said Roll, the team’s leading scorer. “I had no idea that we would be this good at the start of the season. We shocked [the] county.”

Winning created a buzz around the school and gradually changed the culture. Schoolwide announcements were made to remind students of an upcoming game. Students dressed in green packed home games and were so loud that coaches’ words were barely audible.

“I would have liked to take one more adventure with them to the Xfinity Center, but unfortunately this is where it ends for us,” Parrish said. “They took me along for the ride. It’s hard to believe that it’s over. Lots of heartbreak for us but what we accomplished this year will stick with these guys forever.”

David J. Kim

Kaitlyn Parker leaves legacy for Wise girls

Stephon Seraile knew Kaitlyn Parker could change his Wise program as soon as he watched the guard play in eighth grade. The way Parker could predict plays before they happened during an AAU tournament stuck with Seraile.

On March 7, Parker played her final game with Wise in a third-round playoff loss to C.H. Flowers. While Parker helped the Pumas finish with four consecutive winning records, Seraile said she also showed younger players that Wise, a public Prince George’s County school, could produce Division I talent.

Parker will compete at St. Bonaventure next season.

“To know somebody from eighth grade all the way to senior year, it is surreal,” Seraile said. “You want a girl like that for five, six, seven, 10 years. But you know they got to go and spread their wings and move forward.”

As a freshman, Parker told Seraile she wanted to play Division I. Seraile helped Parker improve her defense and jump shot while reminding her of that goal during training.

Parker took losses personal, and after them, the 5-foot-9 guard brought so much intensity to practices that Seraile often told her to relax. During last year’s playoffs, Parker refused to leave a game, playing all 32 minutes.

“When she gets on the game court,” Seraile said, “I’ve never met any other competitor such as her.”

Kyle Melnick

New Hope girls’ season continues at Geico Nationals

In December, Miami Country Day beat New Hope Academy at the Nike Tournament of Champions in Arizona. The Spartans, now the top team in the country, won on a last-second four-point play that erased New Hope’s three-point lead. For New Hope, it was a shocking way to lose.

“Obviously we have a bitter taste in our mouth about it. And we have not lost a game since,” New Hope Coach Sam Caldwell said months later. “We know that we’re a much better team than we were in mid-December.”

Next month, at the Geico Nationals, New Hope (37-3) will get another shot at Miami Country Day, and they will get it on the ultimate stage. The four-team postseason event is reserved for the best of the best, a chance to determine the top girls’ basketball team in America. The D.C. area will have two representatives: New Hope and Washington Catholic Athletic Conference champion St. John’s. The Cadets will face Centennial (Nev.) in the other semifinal.

This is the fifth time Caldwell has gone to Geico Nationals, after years of success at Riverdale Baptist. New Hope, only in its second year of having a varsity basketball program, finished the season with wins at the NACA tournament and the Bishop Walsh Invitational, two respected postseason events. Soon after, it got the invite to New York.

“People were obviously excited,” Caldwell said. “They were jumping around at practice. Because that was their goal all season, to get to play for the No. 1 spot in the country.”

For New Hope to find success up north, they’ll rely on the balance of their starting lineup. Jada Walker, Kyle Kornegay-Lucas, Delicia Pinnick, Demi Washington and Jennifer Ezeh are all Division I talents, and their complementary games have carried the Tigers.

“Those five players right there are very strong,” Caldwell said. “And when they’re clicking on all cylinders, it’s really fun to watch.”

Michael Errigo

Osbourn Park boys ready to rise again

A change was in order for Osbourn Park after it won just five games last season, and that’s when new coach Jeremy Coleman was brought in.

Having coached at Battlefield for seven years, Coleman wasn’t used to guiding a struggling team, and he admitted that, at times, it was hard to lose.

Though the Yellow Jackets were far from contenders, they nearly doubled their win total, going 9-16 this year after a 5-20 finish the previous year. They beat teams they couldn’t get past in previous seasons and won their bracket in the Governor’s Challenge tournament.

Coleman saw breakout seasons from several players, most prominently junior Ethan Wilson. In his first two years on varsity, he was “hidden” and didn’t get much playing time, but this year, he was able to take over, averaging over 20 points as the second-highest scorer in the Cedar Run district.

“We only won nine games, but when you look at the way they won the games they did win — and nobody looks at the ones they lost — but to see how much they competed even in the losses, it almost made it feel like we had more than nine wins,” Coleman said.

Sammi Silber

Read more High School basketball coverage:

No. 5 Eleanor Roosevelt boys pull away from Broadneck for 4A championship

Reservoir’s run ends with a loss to Baltimore Polytechnic in Md. 3A final

C.H. Flowers’ relentless effort pushes it to 4A championship over Old Mill

River Hill streaks to second state championship

Gary Grant sets school record but Thomas Stone falls in state semifinals