By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)
The early part of the season was tough for the Episcopal girls basketball team, which suffered a number of tough losses against strong opponents. But it was intentional scheduling on the part of Maroon head coach Katrina Reed, who said she wanted to prepare her players for a tough slate of conference games in the Independent Schools League.
Despite the 3-5 start to the season, the plan appears to have paid dividends as Episcopal went on a six-game winning streak, most recently securing a convincing 48-27 win over St. Andrew’s on January 21, the Maroon’s last game before the school’s mid-winter break. Episcopal was scheduled to return to the court on January 27 away against local rivals St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes, after the Times’ print deadline.
“I think our kids did a great job learning from those experiences, and some of them were very tough losses,” Reed said. “It was actually the game [away against Collegiate, a 39-27 win] where we really started to see that chemistry and start to figure some things out and really believe in not only ourselves but one another. I think since that point, we’ve really hit a turn as a team and played some good basketball.”
Those six wins in a row have included several lopsided margins of victory, including a 61-17 demolition of Sandy Spring Friends and a 57-20 beating of Madeira, both away from home. It has propelled the Maroon to the upper echelons of the ISL regular season standings, with the players attributing their great run to several factors.
“I think our chemistry as a team has helped us,” said freshman guard Kaylin Shepherd, who had 16 points in the win over St. Andrew’s. “We’re like a family now. As we work as a team, we keep winning and that chemistry grows. We do a lot of things off and on the court.”
“We had a lot of tough games at the beginning of the season, and we knew our schedule was pretty stacked,” said sophomore forward Lexi Weger, who also had 16 points against St. Andrew’s. “After those games, we just came out, said this is the ISL and this is the year we’re going to take it, and I think we’ve done a pretty good job of proving that to people right now.”
Reed said that in those tough games against the likes of Bishop Ireton, Potomac and Trinity Episcopal among others, she looked beyond the scoreboard for an indication of how things were coming together.
“As long as my kids give 100 percent effort, I’m happy,” Reed said. “If you guys tell me you went out, followed the game plan, did everything you could to win and we still came up short, I’m happy as a coach. I think that as the season has progressed, we have started to play like that. Maybe in the beginning I had a little bit of butterflies, but I really did trust the girls and I trusted the system and I think they’re starting to trust as well, which is why things are coming together.”
The mid-winter break comes with several big challenges ahead for the Maroon. The team’s schedule becomes a little more condensed between now and the end of the regular season on February 23, with the postseason starting a few days later. Reed said she sent her players home with an expectation of them doing a certain amount of conditioning work and drills on the court. However, she added that the break can be a good way to decompress ahead of the rest of the team’s campaign.
“[The break] can be a little daunting for a coach, but I think at the end of the season it really does pay off because the kids are so much more mentally and physically refreshed,” she said. “They have that time to go home, to heal their bodies, to get away from basketball, to stop listening to my voice and I think that’s healthy for them. I think it can be taxing, but in the long run it does do our team a service.”
With the school’s break now over, the onus is on the Maroon to keep up the momentum, especially with the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association’s latest poll placing the team at No. 6. Having achieved a 14-10 overall record last season, ending with defeats in the semifinals of the ISL tournament and the first round of the VISAA competition, there is plenty more work to be done.
“We’re learning life lessons on this court, and I think the girls have come to learn and appreciate that and figure some things out in terms of their individual selves,” Reed said. “Hopefully they’re starting to believe.”
“We should keep the energy up,” Weger said. “It’s going to be hard coming off not practicing for a couple of days, but I think if we come back into the gym and get focused, we’ll be unstoppable this year in the ISL.”