Stone Bridge boys’ basketball coach Kent Kling started this season with the knowledge that his team was not his team.
This year, the football team won another Class 5 championship, but the calendar was back to normal, meaning the basketball team started the season with an incomplete roster. Kling’s squad was missing eight football players for the first six games of the season.
The No. 19 Bulldogs (10-1) went 5-1 in that stretch with some junior varsity players filling out the roster. It a sign of how good they could be at full strength. But that sudden influx of talent also came with the challenge of creating chemistry midseason.
“We’re still figuring out the way we need to play at the end of the season, still getting comfortable with each other,” Kling said.
Stone Bridge has won five straight games since that transition, including impressive victories over South Lakes and Champe. The Bulldogs have cemented themselves as the team to beat in Loudoun County, a role they have grown accustomed to in all seasons.
— Michael Errigo
Hunter grows into big role for Dunbar
After winning the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association girls’ championship as sophomores in 2020, Dunbar’s Jailen Hunter and Zy’aire Hairston looked primed to lead the Crimson Tide to another DCIAA title and perhaps contention within the D.C. Scholastic Athletic Association, which includes the District’s public and private schools.
The team’s outlook changed when Hairston, the reigning DCIAA co-player of the year, suffered a season-ending knee injury during a preseason scrimmage against Gwynn Park.
“Everything was going good. We were up like 20, and I had just passed her the ball,” Hunter said. “Then she was going up for a layup and got fouled and hit her knee on the wall.”
Losing the star guard put an unexpected amount of pressure on Hunter.
“Last year, I didn’t really have to score a lot, but now I would have to score and be able to get my team on the board as a point guard,” Hunter said. “So I was just thinking, would we still be able to beat teams by 20 and 30 points?”
After stumbling to a 1-4 start, the Tide (7-5) has rebounded nicely, winning six of its last seven games. With Hairston out, Hunter has nearly tripled her key stats; the senior is averaging 18.2 points and 3.0 assists.
“[When Hairston went down], a lot of teams started looking forward to beating us, but I feel like we are standing on our 10 and just doing what we have to do as a team,” Hunter said.
— Tramel Raggs
Players of the week
Dug McDaniel, G, Paul VI. The senior floor general earned tournament MVP honors as the Panthers beat Sierra Canyon to win the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions event in Springfield, Mo.
Sadie Shores, G, Woodgrove. At the helm of an “everybody eats” offense, the sophomore was especially hungry in the 12-0 Wolverines’ three road victories this week as she averaged 20 points, 11 rebounds and three assists.
Stephaun Walker, F, Coolidge. The senior big man averaged 21 points and 21 rebounds to lead the Colts to a 3-0 record for the week.
Mia Smith, G, Clarksburg. The senior averaged nearly 24 points, six rebounds and four assists in three double-digit wins.
Games to watch this week
Georgetown Prep boys at St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes, 6 p.m. Tuesday
Patriot girls at Osbourn Park, 7 p.m. Tuesday
Ballou boys at Theodore Roosevelt, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
River Hill girls at Mount Hebron, 7 p.m. Friday
Huntingtown starts undefeated
When Huntingtown opened in 2004, one of the first signs that boys’ basketball coaches posted in the gym read “THE DEFENSE NEVER RESTS.” Tobias Jenifer, a Hurricanes forward between 2006 and 2009, lived by that mantra while helping the team become a Southern Maryland Athletic Conference contender.
Jenifer is now Huntingtown’s coach, and that blue-and-white sign still hangs in the Calvert County school’s gym, instilling the program’s values to new players. With stingy defenses spurring their success, the teams Jenifer played for and his squad this winter are much alike.
Huntingtown has allowed 35.3 points per game and has started 7-0 for the first time since Jenifer’s senior season in 2008-09.
“I want to drill it into their heads that the only way to get over that hump and to get that SMAC championship and that regional championship and eventually that state championship,” Jenifer said, “is to get it done on the defensive end.”
When Jenifer returned as an assistant coach in 2015, he continued to emphasize the program’s attitude by learning from the Memphis Grizzlies, who prided themselves on their defense to climb the NBA’s standings in the early 2010s. The Hurricanes won their first SMAC title in 2017, and Jenifer took over the program a few months later.
A few weeks ago, Huntingtown’s defense sign fell when someone threw a basketball against it. Displaying the toughness Jenifer preaches to his players, the sign remained sturdy and was returned to the wall a few days later.
— Kyle Melnick
Visitation adjusts to new realities
Coming into this winter, Georgetown Visitation Coach Mike McCarthy knew he had talent on his roster. The Cubs, winners of 13 straight Independent School League titles, always have talent, but this year’s group had a different feel to it.
“We have a lot of basketball players,” McCarthy said simply. “Usually we get some basketball players and some athletes who are here on a break from different sports. This year we have a lot of talented basketball players.”
The team started the season strong and seemed to be hitting a stride by mid-December, when it faced Madison, arguably the best public school program in the area and an annual nonconference opponent for the Cubs. Whereas Madison has handed the team early-season losses in years past, this year’s 54-40 win for Visitation felt like the beginning of something exciting.
“You could just see us coming together. We played great defense, and against a great team, we were in control,” McCarthy said. “And then we went nine days without a practice.”
A surge in coronavirus cases put the program on pause, and its next game came 23 days later. The Cubs didn’t have too much time to regain their footing before they were visited by Sidwell Friends, the No. 1 team in the region and the country.
No. 5 Visitation (8-1) is familiar with Sidwell, but in the two years since there was a full ISL season, the Quakers have transformed into a juggernaut. Suddenly, the Cubs had to approach the game as an underdog.
“The players were excited about it,” McCarthy said. “We all were. I think we’re going to get them a few times this year, and I told the team, ‘We’re not going there to give them a game; we’re going there to beat them.’ ”
Undefeated Sidwell left Visitation with a 73-57 win, but it was one of its smallest margins of victory this season.
“We learned a lot just playing with them,” McCarthy said.
— Michael Errigo