Following a 7-1 start under first-year head coach Dwayne Shackleford, Anacostia suffered a long trip to New York in late December. Playing in the All-In Holiday Classic in Brooklyn, the Indians were swept in a two-game set by St. John’s Villa and Brooklyn Collegiate – two muscular teams that are as close to resembling H.D. Woodson as Anacostia is going to see all season.
And for Morgan Smiley, that was the true gift from the two losses. Smiley, a senior guard who is averaging 18 points per game and has established herself as one of the DCIAA’s best players this winter, has been calling each game a “championship” this season. The mantra is part of the new philosophy Shackleford, a former Anacostia star who played college basketball at Southern California, has ingrained in his program in an effort to re-establish the winning culture he enjoyed at the school before graduating in 2001.
But even though Smiley and the Indians are two weeks out from their matchup with perennial power Woodson, the Jan. 22 contest will be more than a championship. Smiley has hardly been able to stop thinking about the game recently, and in the first week of the New Year, she admits that even though Woodson has lost three straight and four of six, the Warriors are still the measuring stick in the DCIAA.
“H.D. Woodson is a great motivation. . . . That’s a team who will really show (us) who we are as a team,” Smiley said. “[These next two weeks] we’re getting ready for H.D. Woodson, basically. That’s our game-plan.”
Smiley was the only Anacostia player to score in double-figures in each game in New York, and Shackleford said the three-year starter has had to adjust to the players around her — players who don’t necessarily have the offensive skillset that she does. Anacostia does have productive offensive pieces to complement Smiley as league play approaches — Gianna Person (8.5 points per game) and Ciara Fogg (7.6) have been consistent shooters — but the Indians’ backcourt relies heavily on Smiley’s ability to slash and get to the foul line. She has shot 62 free throws already this season — and although she is shooting just 44 percent, she has 34 more attempts than the next highest total for an Anacostia player. Smiley also leads the team in rebounding, and has had two 12-rebound performances through 10 games.
“Her knowledge of the game is growing,” Shackleford said. “She’s big for us.”
No. 13 H.D. Woodson, meanwhile, has lost three straight non-conference road games, albeit to elite out-of-state teams, including a 10-point loss to Cicero-North Syracuse and a six-point setback to Southwest DeKalb in the Title IX Holiday Tournament late last month.
The Warriors are also adjusting to a first-year coach in Henry Anglin, who has already collected a number of impressive wins early in the season. Woodson has wins over Stonewall Jackson, Holy Cross and University (N.J.), beating each team by 20 or more points. And Anglin has a new star at his disposal in senior point guard Erin Blaine, who is averaging 20.4 points per game and settling into her new role for the Warriors, after transferring from Riverdale Baptist, an elite program that tested her mettle for two seasons. She chose to transfer to Woodson because of her familiarity with Anglin and many of the Warriors players through the AAU circuit, and because the tradition-rich program was looking to reload with talent after graduating four highly touted seniors from last year’s city title runner-up squad.
“It was like, ‘Okay, I’m new to this team, but I have to do something. I can’t just fall back in the shadow,’” Blaine said. “It was a lot of pressure. But I think I’m handling it well.”
Blaine said she turned a corner as a player in an early-season loss to third-ranked Paul VI, where she had 25 points and 10 rebounds. As for the matchup with Anacostia, or any other DCIAA team for that matter, Blaine has grown accustomed to the pressure of being targeted each and every season. She said she played in the shadows at Riverdale Baptist, where the expectations to win are similar to those at Woodson, and where a three-game losing streak is just as rare.
“We just went into a slump,” Blaine said. “If these losses are going to help us out later in the season, that’s fine with us. Because we know we’re going to come back really strong.”