St. John’s and Bishop McNamara entered the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship game having played the entire season on the national stage, hovering around the top of local and national polls. Their two previous meetings, intense and raucous St. John’s wins both, had served as a testament to the strength of the matchup and the level of girls’ basketball in the D.C. area this winter.
But Monday night at American University’s Bender Arena, the Cadets defiantly proved they were in a class all their own by beating the Mustangs, 66-51, for their third straight WCAC title and reasserting their dominance over both their conference and this region.
“This is the closest family of a team that I can ever remember, and we’ve had some great families here,” Coach Jonathan Scribner said. “And when you have that, it carries you.”
After the game, the Cadets posed as they huddled around the trophy, eyes red and three fingers in the air. In the back row, senior starters Malu Tshitenge-Mutombo, Alex Cowan and Carly Rivera smiled wide. This was the fourth trip to the championship game for the tightknit group, and the third title.
Three months ago, when asked after the first game of the season what would make this year special, Cadets guard Azzi Fudd said her team had to win another championship for her friends Tshitenge-Mutombo, Cowan and Rivera in their final season. The reigning All-Met Player of the Year did everything she could to make that happen Monday, scoring a game-high 32 points.
“As we were going into the fourth quarter, we said we were going to give it everything we have because there’s no getting it back after this,” Fudd said. “I’m just so happy we did this.”
Cowan finished with 15 points, Tshitenge-Mutombo added 13, and Rivera had six. Fudd and the three seniors were the only players to score for the No. 1 Cadets (32-1).
They seemed to absorb every blow No. 2 McNamara struck, keeping the game close and waiting to make a final run. Cowan’s three-pointer with six minutes left gave the Cadets a one-point lead, and her team pulled away from there, sprinting to its largest margin of victory over the Mustangs this season.
“We’ve always felt that the fourth quarter is going to be ours,” Scribner said. “In a lot of games this year, it was ours well before that. But even in close games, we always felt that our conditioning, work ethic and leadership would carry us to a win.”
McNamara (29-3) emerged as a strong challenger to the Cadets’ dominance this season, surging through an arduous schedule behind seniors Jakia Brown-Turner (a team-high 16 points Monday) and Aliyah Matharu. The Mustangs were seeking their first conference title since 2008.
But Monday night, and for the season as a whole, they were boxed out by a Cadets team that finished undefeated in WCAC play.
“Our chemistry just makes this team different,” Cowan said. “We trust each other so much, and that’s special.”