When senior Jasmine Whitney first arrived at Paul VI four years ago, the start of a dynasty never entered her mind. Back then, the Panthers were just trying to get over the hump, still in search of their first title in the Washington area’s most competitive girls’ basketball league.
But as Whitney reflected on No. 2 Paul VI’s third straight Washington Catholic Athletic Conference title Monday, secured after a 70-61 win over No. 10 St. John’s at American’s Bender Arena, she had begun to realize the tradition this nucleus of players formed in Fairfax would live on longer than one night.
“I’m just glad I got to be a part of a great legacy here,” Whitney said.
These Panthers will be remembered for their cool under pressure, balanced scoring and sheer dominance. They’ve lost just two games against WCAC competition over the past three seasons, and all three traits surfaced in this latest victory.
Point guard Raven James (14 points) got Paul VI off to another fast start, sophomore Kate Klimkiewicz knocked down three three-pointers to stem the tide, Whitney made clutch plays in the fourth quarter and freshman Ashley Owusu (16 points) and James iced the game at the free throw line late.
The matter-of-fact way in which Paul VI (30-1) went about all this bordered on ruthless.
“We’ve just never been satisfied,” James said. “We worked so hard from the beginning, the past teams, and we’ve just gotten better and better and never settled. I’m just really proud of my team that we did it together. I don’t know what I’d do without them.”
James’s transfer three years ago from Bullis coincided with Paul VI’s rise and reign over the WCAC. Her father coaches the Nike-sponsored Team Takeover AAU team during the summer, and four of Paul VI’s current starters play in the program during the offseason. The Panthers pack a punch with all that chemistry.
They held Cadets junior Aisha Sheppard in check for most of the game, forced turnovers that turned into fast breaks and answered each time St. John’s senior Kayla Robbins (22 points) threatened to spoil the three-peat.
When Paul VI’s lead dwindled to three early in the fourth quarter, Whitney (15 points) turned to brute force to ensure St. John’s (23-7) wouldn’t get any closer. She dribbled right and the defender guessed right, but Whitney nonetheless lowered her shoulder through the lane and forced another lay-in through the hoop.
She wouldn’t be stopped, and neither would the Panthers.
“For all the seniors, this was our last quarter,” Whitney said. “We all just wanted it so bad.”