In the course of nine days in December, Potomac Falls lost three of four games, culminating with a loss to Heritage that left the three-time Virginia AA state Division 4 semifinalists with a rare 5-3 record. But that frustrating nine-day span provided that jolt that awakened the Panthers for a dominant second-half run.
Potomac Falls (16-3, 13-2 AA Dulles District) has not lost, and extended its unbeaten streak to 11 games with a win over Champe on Friday.
Potomac Falls Coach Jeff Hawes looks back to his team’s Heritage loss as a catalyst. The Panthers lingered in the locker room for a 45-minute “sit down” after coming up three points short against the Pride.
“Things just weren’t going the way they usually have,” said Hawes, who led the Panthers to consecutive state championships in 2009-10 and 2010-11. “They weren’t meeting the expectations of the name they were wearing on their chest.”
The coach would not disclose the details of the lengthy motivational speech but said his team was “going through the motions” and required a hard look from within.
Whatever Hawes said, his players took the message to heart. They won their next two games by a combined 82 points. In seven of the 11 straight victories, the Panthers won by a margin of at least 22 points.
“We really just started doing all the things we expect better,” Hawes said, citing effort in practice, defense and scoring distribution.
Sophomore forward Wanya Allen scored at least 20 points in seven games. Freshman Michael Janowski tied Allen’s single-game scoring mark for the season when he put up 26 points against Broad Run. Point guard D’Shawn Shorts added double-digit point totals in eight of his last 10 games, and transfer Deandre Thomas, who started for Herndon last year, has adapted to the Panthers’ system.
Potomac Falls has three games left before the district tournament, including onea home date with Loudoun Valley on Tuesday. Barring a run of upsets, the winner will likely take the district, but that’s not all.
“What’s at stake is the chance to be the No. 1 seed in the division for the regional playoffs,” Hawes said.
The Vikings and Panthers are no longer in the same region — Valley is in Region II Div. 3 and the Panthers are in Div. 4 — but their matchup could play a significant role in both region and state tournament seeding.
The struggle that was the 2011-12 season for Marshall hasn’t been lost on Towner Hale. The junior remembers the trash talk from opponents as they cruised past the Statesmen during a 7-15 campaign that featured just two victories in AAA Liberty District play. Things weren’t much better the year before, as Marshall went 3-20.
This season, Marshall needed seven only games to match its win total from 2011-12 and the Statesmen enter the week in second place in the district standings at 8-4. But Hale doesn’t feel the need to say “I told you so” about a turnaround that he and his teammates fully expected.
“The teams that beat us last year disrespected us off the court and built the stereotype that Marshall’s not good at basketball,” Hale said. “So it’s sort of a relief to prove to everyone, especially in our district, with our play and our record that we’re good and getting better.”
The Statesmen have won their last three games by an average of 14 points, with Hale pacing the team at 11.7 points per game. But the junior forward is far from Marshall’s only weapon. Five different players (Hale, Connor Barrand, Christian Cameron, Grant Leibow and Doug Turpin) led Marshall in scoring during its seven-game win streak to open the season. The biggest of these victories proved to be a 53-52 comeback victory against district foe Fairfax.
“In past years, playing at Fairfax was not always a good situation for us,” Marshall Coach Dan Hale said with a laugh. “But we played well, came away with a win and really solidified in our minds that we can compete based on all the hard work we put in during the offseason.”
This week, the Statesmen will close the regular season with games against No. 17 Langley and Jefferson before entering the Liberty District tournament, where they will once again have a chance to prove just how far they’ve come.