Buckets of new talent

Buckets of new talent
Alexandria City High School Titan senior guard Amor Harris bringing the ball up the court. Photo/Anna Jaeger Photography

By Gwen Peace

Mid-January marks an exciting time of year for high school girls’ athletics, with the basketball season now in full swing. An influx of new talent on the girls’ varsity teams in Alexandria has led to mixed results at Alexandria City High School, Episcopal High School, St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School and Bishop Ireton.

BI, off to an 11-5 start, is currently faring the best, but all four teams show considerable promise. Here’s a roundup of the hoops squad at each school and what to watch for during the rest of the season.

Alexandria City High School

It’s been a season marked by new beginnings for the Alexandria City High School girls’ varsity basketball team (4-8, 2-4 Patriot District, Virginia High School League), which graduated a core group of seniors in 2022. This year’s team is full of talented but inexperienced players, leading to a shaky beginning to conference play.

“We’re a pretty young team,” head coach Marcus McKinney said. “It’s been a challenge, but it’s been fun.”

Titan senior guard Ciara Norflet looking to find a teammate. Photo/Anna Jaeger Photography

However, the team plans to turn this inexperience into an advantage. A major emphasis is being placed on learning the playing style of each girl and creating a cohesive unit. A big part of this push for unity is coming from the two remaining Titan senior team leaders – Amor Harris and Ciara Norfleet. Both girls have been working with the younger players to develop both basketball skills and their overall confidence.

“We want to make sure that we show that we care for each other,” Harris said. “[We’re] playing and pushing each other to our best ability.”

This philosophy is something McKinney believes is greatly aiding the team. When developing his new talent, he makes sure to give each girl room to make mistakes – something he thinks will make them better in the long run.

Norfleet has been taking the time to develop confidence within the young contingent. She knows how intimidating playing on varsity can be – she was in their shoes once – and has been helping the girls learn to drown out distractions.

“There’s a lot of noise in the gym,” Norfleet said. “So, I’m telling them to focus on our game and not really the stands and [to] stay focused on what’s going on right in the moment.”

Both of these things will be crucial for the team’s difficult upcoming conference schedule, but McKinney has faith that they will be able to work together and be successful in the remainder of the season.

“It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish,” McKinney said.

Episcopal High School

The Episcopal High School girls’ varsity basketball team (1-7, 0-3 Independent School League) has not had the start to the season that it might have hoped for. After being greatly impacted by the pandemic, with fewer students willing to attend boarding school in its aftermath, the team is slowly working to get back to where it was at the beginning of 2019.

“It’s been a rebuilding process,” head coach Katrina Reed said. “We’re still trying to figure out that chemistry component and identifying our individual and collective roles.”

After winning their first game of the season against Oakcrest, the girls went on a seven-game losing streak that they have been unable to snap. In Reed’s eyes, the reason for the streak is a lack of consistency. At some points in the season, the girls have shown the ability to not only win games, but they have been unable to convert these flashes of brilliance into wins.

After winning their first game, the inexperienced but gritty Episcopal girls’ basketball team has struggled to find consistency. Photo/Cory Royster

“We’re trying to find those contributors who are going to be even-keeled,” Reed said. “We need everybody to do their job.”

However, what the girls lack in consistency, they make up for in work ethic. Although much of the team is inexperienced, the Episcopal girls have a great desire to continue improving, and are willing to do what it takes to get to the next level.

“We have some really, fantastically gritty kids, who are just workhorses,” Reed said. “They come to practice early [and] they leave practice late.”

And Reed believes that because of this, the Maroon will improve moving forward.

“Every day is a day where the girls are getting better,” she said. “We have the best kids in the whole world.”

St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes 

The season has gotten off to a mixed start for the St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes girls’ varsity basketball team (5-3, 2-1 Independent School League).

The Saints have been able to come up big, and pull out wins against strong opponents like Georgetown Day, which has led to a winning conference record so far. However, the team has also been dealing with early injuries that have limited its depth and forced young players to step up and fill big shoes.

Looking ahead to the remainder of the season, head coach Calvin Crenshaw believes that limiting additional injuries will be the key to future success.

“First and foremost, we need to stay healthy,” Crenshaw said. “Unfortunately, we’ve already had one MCL tear. With the limited amount of players we have, we’re definitely going to need to stay healthy.”

SSSAS junior Belle Akeredolu in action against Holton-Arms School. Photo/Victor O’Neil Studios

The importance of this is further heightened by the fact that SSSAS was already facing a shallow bench at the top of the season. With only 10 players on the roster — three of whom are underclassmen – the rotation has been fairly limited for the Saints. Despite this, Crenshaw is placing an increased importance on meeting the team’s goals.

“We’re going to go into every game with the idea that we’re going to win, regardless of who we play,” he said. “I think the team has one goal and that’s to win.”

To do this, team members will look to build up their stamina, increase their playmaking abilities and develop a small but steady rotation of core players that can match up and triumph over much larger rosters.

“We’re taking each game one game at a time and we’re trying to get better each game,” Crenshaw said. “We need to stay focused; we need to stay locked in and play hard.”

Bishop Ireton

The Bishop Ireton girls’ varsity basketball team (11- 5, 1-2 Washington Catholic Athletic Conference) has gotten off to a dominant start this season. Even more impressive is the young group of players who are spearheading the charge.

“[We are] a team full of sophomores and a few juniors,” head coach Kesha Walton said. “They work really hard, basically just kind of buying into what I’m teaching, and the philosophy, and what we’re trying to do.”

The Cardinals boast a perfect winning record at home and are currently ranked No. 8 in Virginia. They have multiple young standout players who are receiving early attention from colleges. Sophomore Nyla Brooks has already committed to play at the University of Tennessee.

The team is loaded with talent, thanks to Walton, who is responsible for the young recruiting class – her first since taking the job.

“From our last year’s team we pretty much have three players that actually played quality minutes on the varsity team, so we’re pretty much a new team,” she said.

This isn’t slowing them down, something that Walton attributes to a strong sense of camaraderie among the girls – even when they aren’t playing basketball.

“The love that the girls have for each other off the court, it transpires on the court, so it’s pretty fun to watch,” Walton said. “They love competing; they love winning, and they love playing together. When you have those types of things to where it’s clicking on all cylinders, you’re going to have success.”

After their strong start, the team has high hopes for both the remainder of their games and the postseason. Walton believes they have the ability to make a deep run, something that is bolstered by the continuous growth and development of the girls each time they play.

“It seems like every day and every game we’re getting better,” she said. “I just can’t wait to see where we are when it’s time to dance.”