The Duquesne recruit was out with an ankle injury. In her absence, the Spartans rotated a number of players into that point guard role, hoping to keep the offense flowing despite missing one of their most talented players.
Wings Jordan Miller, a senior, and Amy Berglund, a sophomore who missed the first seven games of the season with a knee injury, stepped in to run the offense. Inside, Georgetown-bound senior forward Logan Battle (18.6 points per game) took on a larger offensive responsibility.
“Practices are getting better,” Battle said. “We’re all starting to work together better. We distribute well right now. When April was out and Amy was out, a lot was put on me and Jordan. We were struggling with that. Having everybody back, we’re working harder on trying to distribute the ball and all that stuff its going good for us.”
The Spartans, whose only two losses came over the holiday break at a tournament in Florida, held off an upset bid by T.C. Williams in a 40-37 win on Jan. 30. It was their second narrow win over the Titans, the team they beat in the Northern Region championship last season. The Spartans won 49-48 on Jan. 6.
Spartans Coach Bill Gibson said he thought the team was starting to come together now that all of its pieces were in place. The key, he said, was getting everyone in shape and ready to peak for the region tournament.
“It’s just getting the team to play together,” Gibson said. “We’re not playing as well as we were last year right now. We haven’t played that well all year. We’ve had spurts of it, but not a whole game. There are times in a season when your best ball has been played; well our best ball hasn’t been played yet. We know what we can be. Hopefully the next couple weeks we get things together.”
Battlefield, which plays in the Virginia AAA Cedar Run District tournament this week, could be poised to earn its first Northwest Region postseason berth since the school opened in 2004.
The Bobcats finished second to Stonewall Jackson during the regular season, and both teams have earned first-round district tournament byes. If Battlefield on Wednesday in the semifinals beats the winner of Tuesday’s game between Freedom-South Riding and Patriot, the Bobcats will crack the regional field.
With a loss Wednesday, Battlefield would have to win a consolation game Friday to qualify for regionals. For the first time, the four districts in the Northwest Region will each send three teams to regionals instead of two.
A berth would be a nice reward after a challenging season. Bobcats Coach Eric McCaslin this season brought in assistant coaches Chrissy Kelly and Ashleigh Braxton. Kelly coached Forest Park to two state titles and later was head coach at South County. Braxton played for Kelly’s state championship teams. McCaslin was a Forest Park assistant before taking the Battlefield job.
“It’s definitely been a year of transition,” McCaslin said, citing the influx of coaches, new players and a more challenging schedule. “Whenever you start anything new there’s always a buy-in factor. We managed to fight through all that and start putting some things together.”
The Bobcats (12-10, 8-2), thanks in part to leading scorer Amber Lewis, a senior forward averaging 11.6 points, have won eight of 10. Eight of their losses have been to Potomac (18-2), Millbrook (21-0), Liberty (20-1), Georgetown Visitation (17-4), Stonewall (18-3), North Point (16-1) and Robinson (15-5) by an average of 27.6 points. There also have been two losses to Woodbridge (5-15).
With a season scoring high of 52 points, the Bobcats rely on defense, and give up only 42 points per game. That starts with freshman defensive stopper Elisia Diggs, who earlier this season limited Osbourn senior guard Mikal Johnson, a Rider signee, to a season-low nine points. Johnson averages 19.
“She doesn’t play for the steal or anything like that,” McCaslin said. “It’s basically, ‘I’m just going to stop you.’ That’s huge when you’re trying to isolate somebody’s top scorer.”
National Cathedral’s drop to the ISL A division from ISL AA could not have come at a better time. The Eagles, young to begin with this season, became even moreso after the loss of three players to injury, none of whom will return this season.
NCS starts two seniors and three freshmen, and their few weeks together is beginning to pay off. NCS (9-5, 6-2) has won five straight headed into its home game at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday against first-place St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes (14-3, 8-0).
The Eagles last week knocked off Holy Child (11-6, 6-2) to move into a second-place tie in the ISL A standings.
“It’s worked out perfectly because we were so young and [could avoid] getting thrown into that [upper] division,” NCS Coach Tara Gallagher said of dropping down to ISL A after finishing last in the higher division last season.
“The freshmen are where they feel more comfortable and can get confidence. The more confident they are, the better experience they’ll have.”
Arlana Agiliga and Caroline Yarborough, the team’s lone seniors, have taken on an even greater leadership role. The team’s top scorer is freshman point guard Marta Sniezek, who averages 21.6 points per game.
NCS led St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes by four entering the fourth quarter when the teams met Jan. 14. Saints junior guard-forward Dhyamond Crenshaw scored 21 points that game, as did Sniezek, to lead her team to a 49-45 win.
Ninth-ranked Wise, a Maryland 4A finalist last year with two standout players, has had little trouble in Prince George’s County 4A, winning its league games by an average of 30 points.
But when the Pumas (16-1, 14-0) play Bowie, last season’s county conference champion, they get the test they want. On Friday, the Bulldogs again kept the game close before Wise came back in the third quarter and withstood a late rally to win 61-59 — the second two-point game between the teams this season.
“Win lose or draw, we’re looking for a game like Bowie,” Wise Coach Walter Clark said. “We wanted to win it but we wanted to play it more than anything else. For states, we don’t get the level of competition that we need.”
Clark attributes this to the loss of talent that the county has sustained, creating only a handful of strong teams at the top. When the Pumas reached the state final last winter, they faced a level of competition in champion Gaithersburg that they hadn’t seen much of during the season. So games against Bowie (13-3, 11-2) are welcome challenge.
After trailing by nine points in the third quarter, Wise stormed back and took a five-point lead with three minutes left behind seniors Eliqua Brooks (25 points) and Khadijah Gibson (19 points). The Pumas then withstood a late Bowie rally.
“As always, Khadijah and Eliqua put us on their backs,” Clark said.
While Paint Branch has been one of the state’s most successful programs in the past decade, Coach Rochelle Coleman inherited a team without much connection to that legacy. The Panthers struggled to seven wins a year ago and senior Brigette Ocran is the lone holdover from the squad that won 22 games in 2009-2010.
Coleman — a former All-Met guard who helped the Burtonsville school win a state title in 2001 — feared letting that winning culture slip away. The Panthers showed how far they have come in a short time in Friday’s 62-48 loss at No. 3 Gaithersburg, hanging tough against the county’s most explosive squad.
“I’m feeling good because the kids are excited about working hard and improving,” Coleman said afterward. “They’re disappointed with today. They feel like they could have won this game.”
Paint Branch (13-5) used a gritty effort to threaten Gaithersburg’s now 42-game winning streak. Ocran (16 points) and sophomore Kiara Colston (15 points) made smart decisions against the Trojans’ pressure defense for most of the night, while 6-foot-4 senior center Amaka Ezeani showed a deft touch around the basket with 14 points.
Gaithersburg (17-0) trailed by four at half but took the lead with a 15-2 run to start the third quarter. Coleman’s squad didn’t have the firepower to climb back, but never let the Trojans — who had won nine straight by at least 21 points — pull away.
Despite those setbacks, Coleman — who had been an assistant — sees a confidence that was missing last season.
“I think once we can be able to focus for an entire game, it’ll show dividends for us,” Coleman said. “We’re still waiting to put it all together.”
Meade senior Imani Bailey has been a fixture near the top of the area scoring leaders list for the past two seasons, but the explosive guard has struggled just to make it out on the court — much less continue that torrid offensive pace — in recent weeks.
Bailey said she first felt discomfort in her groin in a Jan. 13 win at Glen Burnie. The mysterious injury — diagnosed as a bruise rather than a strain — has kept her out of two of the past three games.
Slowed by the pain, Bailey has posted 16 points or fewer in three straight appearances. The Howard signee has relied on a daily regimen of heat, ice and physical therapy in an effort to get back to 100 percent.
“I’m just trying to play through it,” Bailey said. “I want to win the county title for me and my team.”
Bailey — who still ranks 11th in the area at 22.4 points per game — expects to play Tuesday when the Mustangs (12-5, 11-1 Anne Arundel) travel to Annapolis. The Panthers (12-3, 10-2) have won 11 straight to put pressure on Meade’s bid for a second straight county title.
Senior forward Jamie McKeither (16.5 ppg) had a game-high 18 points in an overtime win over Broadneck on Jan. 25, while sophomore forward Diamond Henson has hit double figures in three straight games, including a 19-point performance in a 64-46 victory at Arundel last week.
Bailey played in both of those games but took on more of a supporting role with the injury limiting her ability to get out in transition and slash to the basket.
“It’s like when Michael Jordan was sick [but played anyway] — just her presence out there helps,” Coach Reggie Leach said. “There are ways to help the team without scoring, and she’s been doing that. She’s done a good job providing us assists and steals and leadership. ”
For now, Leach and the team’s trainer will continue to monitor Bailey’s progress and rest her as necessary, even if it's hard to convince the star to watch from the bench.
While Bailey played her freshman season at Spalding, she is less than 60 points away from becoming the program’s all-time leading scorer. She wants to reach that milestone and keep the injury from derailing her final high school season.
“Even if I can’t perform like I usually do,” Bailey said, “I still have to stick it out for my team.”