By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)
The Episcopal boys basketball team began Sunday in the auxiliary gym at Bullis, ready for its fifth-place playoff against Sanford but perturbed by a wet and slippery surface.
After back-and-forth discussions, some furious floor wiping and the introduction of two large fans to dry the court, the game was moved to the main gym for safety reasons.
And despite more than an hour’s delay, including a wait in the bleachers for the previous game to end, it seemed to matter little to the Maroon, who cruised to a 70-53 win and a fifth-place finish in the Bullis Holiday Classic tournament.
“The main thing was to keep them calm,” said Episcopal head coach Jim Fitzpatrick. “When people started to realize the floor was slick and we weren’t going to play on time, I think what happened is a lot of the kids got worked up.
“I think it’s good to calm the players down and let them know that all they have to worry about is two things: the coaches are going to keep them safe and then when it is time to play, they get to go and run around and play basketball, which is great.”
Episcopal never trailed in the game against Sanford, although it was close in the first quarter as the Warriors cut the deficit to one point. Then just before time expired in the period, Maroon guard George Mawenda-Kalema sunk a three-pointer to re-establish his side’s advantage, and they never looked back.
“Coach Fitzpatrick was telling us just to keep calm,” Mawenda-Kalema said. “We came down here and stayed together as a team and made sure whenever they called us up at game time, we were going to be ready.”
The senior led all Episcopal scorers with 19 points. Sophomore guard Xavier Johnson had 18 points for the Maroon, while junior forward Zach Pfaffenberger added 17.
The victory capped an encouraging outing for the Maroon at the tourney hosted in Potomac, Md. The defending Interstate Athletic Conference and Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association champions began with a 68-62 win over St. Vincent Pallotti on the first day, but lost 63-44 against Blue Ridge the following day.
Fitzpatrick said he was impressed by what he had seen from his team, especially to re- cover from the disappointment of missing out on a berth in the championship game.
“Overall in the three-day period, any time you go 2-1 in a tournament like this where it’s back to back to back, I think that’s a real positive for the kids,” he said. “You al- ways want to go 3-0, but you walk away feeling good. To end it on a positive note today really means a lot, and I think it propels us to have a good January.”
The Maroon return to action on January 4 at home against The Heights, with IAC play slated to start the following week. And with no games scheduled over the winter break, the onus is on the players to stay in shape ahead of a grueling stretch of games in the New Year.
“If you look at it the wrong way, it’s a real negative and it’s tough to deal with,” Fitzpatrick said. “If we look at it as taking the season in sections and using this two-week period as a time for kids to recover their bodies, recover their minds and come back with renewed energy in January, then I think it’s positive.”
Episcopal Girls 69, Washington Latin 31
In the lead up to the Bullis Holiday Classic, Episcopal’s girls basketball team was decimated by a virus that swept across campus.
With seven players — including two starters — sidelined, the Maroon battled hard to finish fifth overall in the girls tournament after a 69-31 win over Washington Latin on Sunday.
Maya Goree led the way for Episcopal with 29 points, while Lexi Weger added 18 points and nearly had a triple-double. Most heartening for Maroon head coach Katrina Reed was that every player scored, something she said showed the team’s lack of selfishness on offense.
“I was so impressed by the way we shared the basketball tonight offensively,” Reed said. “I bet our assist numbers for tonight are far higher than they’ve ever been in any game this season, maybe even last season. We were unselfish, almost to a fault.”
The Maroon girls began the tournament with a 53- 47 loss to the Hill School of Pennsylvania last Friday, but recovered with a 57-44 victory over Stone Ridge on the second day. After the Washington Latin victory left her team at 5-4 heading into Episcopal’s winter break, Reed said it was useful to face different teams, especially with Independent Schools League conference play beckoning.
“It’s fun, because you get to play teams you normally wouldn’t see,” she said. “It’s good to run against other teams that are not your typical ISL or [Washington Catholic Athletic Conference] opponents. It gives people a fresh perspective.”