After Loudoun County lost its third consecutive game on Jan. 8, senior Maggie Phillips knew improvements were needed if her team was to get back to its status as a perennial state playoff contender over the last five seasons.
“After those three losses, we just sort of said, ‘hey, we’re not that good,’” Phillips said. “We better be practicing hard. If we really want, we have to go for it.”
Despite a roster that features only two seniors, the Raiders found the resolve to push forward . The losing streak pulled this year’s group together, and Loudoun County (23-5) followed with16 consecutive wins and Conference 21 regular-season and tournament titles. And following a run to the 4A North title game, the Raiders are back in the state semifinals.
The Raiders, who lost at William Fleming, 64-53, in Saturday’s region final, will take on defending AAA champion and perennial power Lake Taylor on March 8 at Old Dominion.
A year ago, the Raiders, who won the 2008-09 Virginia AA Division 4 title, reached the state semifinals. They also made it to the state tournament the previous two seasons, appearing in the championship game in 2011.
Those experiences are something the Raiders can build on this time around.
“It’s hard not to play emotional in these types of games,” said Phillips, a four-year varsity player who this season averages 13.5 points per game. “I think for all of us, we want it so bad that it’s easy to get so invested in it. We’re just trying to figure out a way to get invested and aggressive and all those things while staying collected.”
With another state tournament opportunity ahead, Loudoun County Coach Derek Fisher said this is what his team has prepared for all season.
“Our seniors aren’t going to allow us to be overwhelmed by the moment,” Fisher said. “But the team that wins will make it just a basketball game. We’re going to need our best game of the year.”
The Raiders might not have the size other teams possess — Phillips is their tallest player at 6 feet — but they’ve worked around that through some tough in-season practices and fundamental play.
“For our team, the story is the intangibles,” Phillips said. “The chemistry, the togetherness. The coaches were able to put together offense and defense that put together the best in each player.”