W.T. Woodson boys emerge; Oxon Hill girls welcome the challenge

W.T. Woodson boys emerge; Oxon Hill girls welcome the challenge

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When WT Woodson senior Owen Lathrop of St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes knew before the season that no matter what the future held at his new school, it would be better than his past three years.

He loved his previous program, but the Saints routinely suspended Division I players. This did not bode well for his playing time. This year would be different.

And it sure was. The Cavaliers, without great prospects – as most teams are – started the season 4-10. At the end of games, they often made costly mistakes. At the beginning of the year, their coach said, they didn’t look at each other the way a good team does. They struggled to adjust to the speed of the game.

“Everybody was like, ‘Oh, you’re sanding,'” Cavaliers coach Doug Craig said with a laugh. “Well, they didn’t play. There is so much that goes into varsity basketball. All of a sudden you’re playing in a packed gym on a Friday night with 1,000 of your friends watching. I thought by the end of the year we would be a good team. We’re getting there.”

Cavaliers (7-10) still have an uphill climb in one of the area’s top districts. But after wins over Fairfax and South County, both of which spent time at the top of the Patriot district, they found the confidence they craved.

“We feel like we can beat anybody,” said Lathrop, who led the team in scoring against South County. “That’s our philosophy going forward.”

Woodson just needed time to work. Junior Sean Donovan, the only returning starter from last year’s 17-7 team, has helped bring in an influx of former junior varsity players. Lathrop became their most consistent scorer. Senior Charlie Schmidt became their glue. And the biggest boon came from Theo Burke, who ran the show as an undersized sophomore point guard, putting on gutsy performances and celebrating after nearly every basket he made this season.

“It feels like Woodson basketball is back,” Donovan said.

Oxon Hill benefits from training vs. JV boys

When asked to evaluate his team, Oxon Hill girls coach Devone Williams usually takes a long, thoughtful pause before offering his opinion.

On one hand, the Clippers have proven themselves to be the top Prince George’s County program below the 4A level as they have won 36 straight games against other 3A/2A/1A teams. But Oxon Hill hasn’t won a state playoff game against an out-of-state school since 2018.

“It’s always a hard thing for me to discuss,” Williams said. “As a program we are very aware of the fact that a lot of our competition is not necessarily up to standard. So while our record looks good, we’re not going to brag or brag about beating the teams we’re supposed to beat.”

With a focus on achieving postseason success, no. 19 Oxon Hill (15-2) began practicing regularly with the boys’ junior varsity basketball team.

“We initially made the decision because of gym availability,” Williams said. “But after we did it, the benefits were so clear that we decided to keep doing it.”

Despite the boys usually getting the upper hand during scrimmages, the Clippers said going up against stronger, more athletic bodies helped prepare them for the veteran teams they’ll face in the playoffs.

“Playing with the boys is always fun because the intensity is high like a game,” junior and leading scorer Madison Williams said. “Nobody wants to lose, and there’s a lot of trash talk and good energy. But I think the biggest advantage is that they require us to really play as a team and run our sets. Every pass has to be on time and we have to be fundamentally sound in everything we do, otherwise they’re going to make us pay.”

Fadima Tall, Georgetown Visit: The senior, a Princeton commit, recently reached 1,000 career points.

Ke’Mari Pointer, Theodore Roosevelt: The sophomore continues to assert himself as one of the city’s best underclassmen, averaging 19.5 points, four assists and three steals in two games last week.

Tatum Olson, McLean: The sophomore scored 20 points against Langley, which ended the Saxons’ nine-game winning streak, tied the Highlanders in the Liberty district and took back the “Rotary Cup” trophy.

Peter Mangan, Damascus: The senior scored 26 points as Damascus knocked off Gaithersburg at home to remain undefeated.

Woodgrove girls at Briar Woods, Tuesday, 6:15 p.m

No. 17 Meade boys at Glen Burnie, Tuesday, 6 p.m

Bard boys at Anacostia, Friday, 7:30 p.m

No. 6 St. John’s girls at No. 4 Paul VI, Sunday, 3:30 p.m

St. Andrew’s execute upset

Down two with 3.5 seconds left, the St. Andrew’s boys decide to go and win on Tuesday night. They played at home against then no. 5 Sidwell Friends, a battle between the only two undefeated programs left in the Mid-Atlantic Athletic Conference.

St. Andrew’s trailed by 11 at halftime, but spent the second half chipping away at the Quakers’ lead. Now, with one last chance to tie or win, coach Kevin Jones and his team aimed to go all out. They would set a backdoor screen for junior Scottie Hubbard, hoping defenders would step away from the screener — junior Xander Alarie — leaving him open for a three-point attempt.

“We thought we got back to that point, why not just go for it,” Jones said.

It was a play that would require a certain amount of patience and clean execution, two things that are often difficult to achieve in the closing seconds of a basketball game. Often, with the game on the line, hero shots and broken plays prevail.

But Jones has been preaching execution to his team all season. The no. 10 Lions (16-3) are often at their best when they push the ball and score, but Jones knows his players must also be able to create opportunities in the half court to compete in the MAC.

“Before that game, we were just talking about half-court execution,” Jones said. “And I do think the more we emphasize something, our kids actually try to do it. So I think Tuesday was a really great moment where we drilled it in and they went out there and did it.”

So, the Lions ran their backdoor screen to perfection. But instead of Alarie springing open, Hubbard got a lead on his defender. Senior Marcel Gardner found him with a quick pass and Hubbard went right up and drew a foul as he laid the ball in just before the buzzer.

The junior’s free throw gave the Lions a dramatic 51-50 victory, moving them into first place with half a dozen conference games remaining.

After the game, Jones quickly packed a bag and headed to the hospital. His wife gave birth to their third child on Wednesday.

“A pretty crazy 24 hours,” Jones said later. “But everything is wonderful.”

North Point finds its way

North Point girls coach Michael Serpone estimates his team is without 40 to 45 points a night due to injury.

Sophomore Kailyn Rapp, senior Anna Fields, junior Zoe Stokes and junior RaNya Hewlett all suffered knee injuries before the season started. None of the four, each of whom Serpone said would have been in the team’s rotation, will return this season.

The Eagles lost their first six games, but rebounded in the new year, winning seven of their last nine. They are on a five-game winning streak that includes a win Wednesday over Lackey, the top-ranked team in the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference entering the game.

Senior Nijiyah Pace led them on and off the court. Pace struggled offensively at the start of the season but maintained strong defensive play, Serpone said.

“She was that stereotypical senior leader,” Serpone said. “Hardest worker in the gym all the time – I mean without a doubt.”

North Point also changed defensive schemes twice. Serpone’s teams have traditionally played the “pack line” defense popularized by the University of Virginia men’s team, but the injuries have Serpone reconsidering. He tried to coach people, he said, and coached himself in the process.

So the Eagles returned to the pack-line defense in early January, and the move has paid dividends, coinciding with the team’s strong play.

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