Ireton girls becoming WCAC powerhouse

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Jason Harris coaches freshman point guard Laila Jewett on her shooting at one of B.I.'s daily practices. (Photos: Missy Schrott)
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By Missy Schrott | mschrott@alextimes.com

With a conference record of nine wins and four losses this season, the Bishop Ireton varsity girls’ basketball team is tied for third in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference and on the path to success.

Their overall record of 18 and five, which includes non-league games, has landed the Cardinals at number 12 on the Washington Post’s girls’ basketball Top 20 regional ranking. As of now, the team is in a good position to make the league and state playoffs, Coach Jason Harris said.

Harris said his goal was to make it at least to the WCAC semifinals and play on the court at American University – a feat that’s never before been accomplished by a B.I. girls’ basketball team.

To hit that benchmark however, they have a long way to go; over the course of the next week, the Cardinals will have faced a series of three highly ranked teams; after a tough loss of 50-45 to longtime rival Bishop O’Connell Tuesday evening, they take on St. John’s and Paul VI this weekend, the number one and two ranked teams in the Post’s Top 20.

Harris said the team’s success this season has in part been due to its star, junior center Akunna Konkwo, the team’s main scorer. In her career at B.I., Konkwo has already surpassed 1,500 points and 1,000 rebounds.

“Everybody on this team is really selfless,” Harris said. “[Konkwo] scores a lot of points, but nobody gets jealous … Everybody kind of plays their role and does their part.”

Harris said the team’s ability to pull together has been one of its strengths.

“We really feel like it’s a team honor anytime any of them accomplish something. That’s been one of the biggest keys to our success, the team mentality,” Harris said.

The team is composed of one senior, four juniors, one sophomore and six freshmen.

“We have a good lineup,” Konkwo said. “[We have] a whole new set of players, and we’ve just been getting along, so it’s a pretty good year so far. I think we’ve played pretty good.”

Game-wise, Konkwo said the team tends to score early in games and then hold the lead. While they are a good shooting team, Konkwo and her fellow players said defense was something they could improve upon.

“We’ve been working on defense,” said Sydney Peters, a junior shooting guard. “If we keep teams under a certain amount of points, we feel like we can win because we know how to score.”

Harris said the defense was the glue of the team, despite defensive players not getting the same attention as star scorers. Specifically, he said junior shooting guard Symantha Shackelford embodied the Cardinals’ team mentality.

“She guards the hardest player on the other team,” he said. “She does all the dirty work and doesn’t really get any of the credit, but our team doesn’t function without Sym. Sym is probably the most important part of the team.”

“I don’t score all the time, but I make sure that my teammates get the ball,” Shackelford said. “If we’re not playing together, then we’re not going to win.”

When asked what kind of coach Harris was, both Shackelford and Konkwo began laughing and said he’s loud.

“He’s a yeller,” Shackelford said, “but if you mostly just listen to what he’s saying and not how he’s saying it, you’ll get the point. He yells a lot, but he definitely loves all of us, so you’ve just gotta take it.”

Harris said he has tailored his game strategies to fit this year’s team.

 

Since Harris began coaching at B.I. four years ago, girls’ basketball has been on the rise; the team finished 1517 his first year, 16-15 his second year and 20-11 last year. With the help and support of B.I. administration, Harris has been helping build the program.

“It’s very important for me that we just highlight their strengths,” he said. “As opposed to me doing a style that I’m comfortable with, [I’m] trying to make the style of the team something that they’re comfortable with, something that they’re going to enjoy.”

“When I first got here, they didn’t have much success,” he said. “We were just trying to change the culture – teach them how to win, teach them how to have fun doing what they were doing and take it a little bit more seriously.”

Now, Harris said the players who were freshmen when he started have become experienced leaders.

“It’s fun now, because those kids are teaching the younger kids what to do and how to play and how to be serious,” he said. “It is a little bit more of them kind of managing themselves as opposed to me telling everybody and dictating what to do. They do a really good job of taking ownership of what they’re doing.”

Laila Jewett is one of the freshmen who has enjoyed learning from more experienced players. Harris said she’s started at point guard in every game this season.

“It’s really thrilling, actually,” Jewett said. “The first game I was actually pretty nervous. I like it, though. I like being around older people, playing with older people. It gets you more experience.”

Jewett attributed much of her growth to Harris.

“He’s really helped me, because I couldn’t shoot, like, at all when I came here, but now I’m starting to knock down more threes,” she said. “He really helped me out a lot. I’m a pretty good shooter actually, not gonna lie. Don’t tell him I said that.”

Looking forward to the rest of the season, Harris said he plans to work on keeping the team’s mental game solid and their physical game fresh.

“When you’re in this league, sometimes playing those teams back to back to back, it can be discouraging … because our league is probably one of the best in the nation,” he said.

“You get these hard teams, and it’s tough and instantly wears on them,” he said. “I think that’s one of the things that we have to really focus on … making things new and refreshing and fun, so they’re not worn out and worn down, because there’s about another three or four weeks left in this season.”

The Cardinals take on St. John’s at home Friday at 7:30 p.m.

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