By Melissa Quinn
For the T.C. Williams girls varsity basketball team, being the underdog has become the norm.
Season after season, the team plays well enough to reach the Patriot District tournament. And year after year, they fall short of walking away with the title, the glory, the trophy and the redemption.
But for head coach Kesha Walton, being the underdog has its perks. It’s a source of constant motivation, whether in a pre-game speech or a practice pep talk. And with the shadow of championships lost looming over the Lady Titans, this year is no different.
“We’re right there and we’re so close but it seems so far,” Walton said. “But it’s not.”
Though the Lady Titans have consistently made appearances at the regional and state tournaments, it’s a feat their critics hardly seem to notice.
“We have not been recognized at all for some of the success we’ve had,” Walton said. “But for us … we use it to motivate and get it going.”
Despite beginning the season with a lone starter – the team lost six seniors last year – the squad is resilient. With just two seniors and two juniors, and the Walton relies heavily on her freshman and sophomores.
“We have a lot of inexperience in a way,” Walton said. “But I’m trying to get them to build their own legacy.”
Though Walton worries the team’s lack of varsity play may be detrimental to their success this season, she’s confident the girls’ athleticism makes them a worthy opponent against the teams on their schedule, primarily Lake Braddock and West Springfield, who walked away with the district title last year. They are the Titans’ toughest adversaries.
“We’ve lost seven times to West Springfield [in the district tournament],” said senior guard Baylee Simpson. “We get so close and it just hurts us. We worked so hard to get there.”
Walton and the team recognizes they’re going to have to play tough defense to remain competitive this season – and in the Patriot District.
“Work hard, no BS,” said sophomore guard Rejoice Spivey. “Go hard or go home.”
Still, it’s an uphill battle. The team is 2-2, after beating West Potomac and Wakefield while falling to Edison and W.T. Woodson. They face Lee on the road Friday.
“We’re rekindling the fire and getting it going again,” Walton said.
And with not much depth on the bench, the Lady Titans are going to have to rely on each other – leaning on a bond Walton works to strengthen every game day. Before the girls take the court, they eat together, sit together and dress together in an effort to get their minds ready.
This season, Walton started a tradition in which each player receives a small token from a fellow teammate – anonymously – as part of her secret pal exchange, Simpson said. It’s a small gift usually accompanied with words of encouragement and a snack.
The gift giving is designed to reinforce the team’s camaraderie – and hopefully it will translate into cohesion on the court.
And they’ll fight all the way to the tournament in February.
“No one remembers the second place team,” Walton said. “We’re playing for something better and we’re preparing for the tournament in February and that’s it.”*
*Due to a reporting error, the Alexandria Times initially reported the T.C. Williams girls varsity basketball team had not won a Patriot District title, but the team claimed the district title in 2009. We apologize for the error.