By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)
The T.C. Williams girls basketball team began Saturday’s game against Westlake with a 5-0 scoring run, sparked by a high-pressure defense that stole the ball immediately after the first points were tallied.
It then maintained that pressure, ramping it up in the second half, when the Lady Titans conceded just one point. T.C. cruised to a 69-14 win over the Wolverines in the She’s Got Game Classic hosted at St. John’s in Northwest D.C. and moved to a perfect 4-0 record.
“Our mindset every day is defense, defense, defense,” said Lady Titans head coach Kesha Walton. “We know the offense will come, but if we’re able to lock down teams and be able to play disciplined, we can have a better chance of coming out on top.”
The offense came to life in an impressive display for T.C., which began play in the Patriot Conference Tuesday at home with a 49-30 win over Lake Braddock. Junior forward Karemee Copeland led all Lady Titan scorers Saturday with 17 points, while senior Bhrandi Crenshaw shrugged off some early foul trouble to tally 15. Copeland also grabbed 9 rebounds in the victory.
Sophomore point guard Geonna Stockton added 13 points after being asked to fill in for starter Trinity Palacio, who was forced to exit the game with an injury in the first quarter. Palacio dived for a loose ball at mid-court against a Westlake opponent, but chipped a tooth in the process and needed emergency dental work.
Last season’s Patriot Conference tournament MVP would not return, but her absence served as motivation for T.C.’s remaining players.
“We felt like we needed to push harder, because Trinity always steps up for us,” said Copeland. “Losing her, it felt like we needed to step up for her and play the game for her.”
“I was really happy with the way [Stockton] stepped up and accepted that role,” Walton said. “I was very excited with the way the team stepped up. She’s been the lead on the team because she plays point guard, so once I was able to set them down, they played together.”
T.C. shook off Palacio’s exit to power into a 17-6 lead at the end of the first quarter, taking advantage of some sloppy Westlake ball-handling. A 12-0 run in the second quarter helped extend that advantage to 34-13 at halftime, with the pressing defense still causing problems for the Wolverines.
“Pretty much our play is defense,” said Walton. “We build on that by saying defense is our No. 1 offense, and it gets them hungry and going after it. We live off it. If it’s a dead ball, we’re like vultures after it, so we’re going to get it.”
The Lady Titans continued to push forward after the interval, showing the impact of intensive practices that sometimes feature an opposition made up of boys, an innovation designed to make things as tough as possible outside of the game environment.
“For us, boys are stronger, faster, that’s just the genetic makeup,” Walton said. “With that, we know once we play against girls, they’re not going to be as fast, they’re not going to be as strong, so if we’re able to handle it against our practice squad on a day-to-day basis, our games should be easier. I always want to put them in the predicament where practice is hard and games are a lot easier.”
“We put in a lot of minutes in practice with defense,” said Copeland. “Coach Kesha really pushes us hard to have hardcore defense, because that’s basically our offense. We practice that every day, all practice.”
T.C. is heavily favored to have another successful season, having won the Patriot Conference title last time out and then reached the Virginia High School League 6A North regional quarterfinals in late February.
And with a team filled with returning players, Walton said the players were able to hit the ground running in preseason and not worry so much about learning skills.
“From a teaching standpoint, we’re building from it, it’s not back to square one,” she said. “We’ve knocked a little dust off, because most of my team is returning players, and then they shine. Whereas starting back from scratch and putting everything in, it’s building on once we knocked the dust off.”
But with a number of tough tests ahead, Walton said she is taking things a game at a time, all with one eye on what she calls the “February Madness” of the postseason, an intense run of games that can test even the largest of rosters.
“For us, it’s a game by game situation,” she said. “I told them, these games right here are preparation for when it really matters. I call it the February Madness. That’s what we’re gaming for, day in and day out.”