First things first: I really, really like this team! Immensely!
For the first time in over 20 years, the varsity girls basketball team is ranked among the area’s elite in two recent Washington Post Top 20 polls. And, deservingly so!
It’s year four in the Aggie McCormick-Dix era, and things are looking up. Coming off a 16-16 campaign a year ago and an appearance in the Virginia Independent Schools State Championship Tournament finale, it appears the program is oh-so-close to becoming a factor in the nationally-acclaimed Washington Catholic Athletic Conference.
Not since the days of the Finney twins and Michaal Tuttle has the program gained the accolades and recognition that are now evolving under the veteran mentor. And, being optimistic, I truly believe that this is just the beginning. This is not just a one-year aberration. Besides a trio of outstanding seniors, there are some nice young players in the system now.
But, it’s those three seniors that give this team a chance to be special. The 2015-16 edition is at the threshold, with the opportunity to finish top two or three in the WCAC and, once again, become a legit contender come state tournament time. Lofty expectations, but also very, very realistic.
At the forefront is Jasmine Taylor (pictured above), a versatile 5’11” athlete who can do it all – and, in essence, does. The ultimate competitor, Jasmine is first and foremost “a winner.” She can take you off the dribble or stick the trey from long range. She is a matchup nightmare for the opposition. Besides her awesome skill set, “Jas” has tremendous instincts for the game. She is as nice a talent as we have had on the girls’ hardwood in a long, long time. Just love her game and demeanor on the court. She’s all business out there – playing with a sense of purpose intent on prevailing when all is said and done. The Boston College signee plays with a drive and determination that is beyond compare. Never was that more evident than earlier in the campaign against a highly-touted McNamara contingent. She was not going to allow her team to lose that game. She has a great feel for the game. She redefined the word “winner” on that night. She’s the real deal!
Her side-kick, Janiya Clemmons (pictured right), is also an extremely gifted talent. A four-year varsity standout, her game has improved each and every year. She is an adept ball-handler who is at her best scoring off the bounce with her pull-up jumper, especially 17 feet in. Unlike many of her counterparts, the Columbia University-bound senior is extremely effective creating her own shot, elevating and displaying a nice touch as her shot finds the netting. Like “Jas,” Janiya plays hard and with a purpose. She has a tremendous work ethic, both on and off the playing court. The Ivy League is getting a good one.
The third member of that trio, Alicia Gonzales, was off to the best start of her four-year career at O’Connell – sparking her teammates with her play at both ends of the floor with her defensive tenacity and aggressive offensive game. An ACL injury has since sidelined her for the season, a tremendous loss for the team. As the team’s defensive stopper in the backcourt, she was invaluable – as Coach McCormick-Dix is quick to point out. Nevertheless, the little lefty is making her presence felt on the bench – providing insight to her teammates as to the x’s and o’s and just the game itself. She is taking her talents to Case Western at the collegiate level.
But the reason for long-term optimism is the supporting cast, most especially Brie Perpignan (pictured left) and Maddie Cherry.
Going back to the McNamara game in December, as good as Taylor was (and she was great), another coach said to me afterwards: “Brie was the best player on the court tonight.” And, somewhat amazingly, that was my exact thought at the time. Brie Perpignan was, without question, the best player on the floor that night. She was that good! Her game has come so far over the last 12 months. The little sophomore point guard has supreme quickness and speed, a good handle and can knock down the three from long range. She’s at her best taking the ball to the basket. This has been a break-out season for her. If her game keeps evolving, she could be big-time. She’s that good!
Another good one is junior Maddie Cherry (pictured right). She is the Knights’ best outside threat, dialing long distance night-in, night-out from three-point land. She a streak shooter “who can shoot the lights out when she is hot.” Her court awareness and savvy make her the player that she is, more often than not finding open teammates with her on-target passes. She is also active going to the boards and has really stepped up her game on the defensive end. To her credit, she has become a more well-rounded player this winter.
Rounding out the first five is Kirsten Knauf – a 5’8” sophomore who is finding her niche in the Knights’ scheme, whether it be knocking down a baseline three-pointer or matching up with an over-sized post player. She just does what she is asked to do, and, to her credit, does it well. She has nice instincts for the game, which is not a given in the girls’ game. Without question, the soph standout has been a pleasant surprise for the DJO girls.
Mainstays coming off the bench for Coach McCormick-Dix’s team have been freshmen Anna Hovis (pictured left) and Maura Leverone. Hovis’ contributions in the post have really been outstanding recently, manning up in the paint, going strong to the boards and displaying a nice touch down low in around the basket. The six-foot frosh was especially impressive in a recent loss to perennial power Good Counsel. Her upside is big-time. Leverone, on the other hand, has been pretty impressive since Day One – providing a spark off the bench with her defensive tenacity and offensive skill set, draining it from long range and taking the opposition off the dribble and driving the lane for scores. The little lefty is a nice talent.
Sophomores Julianne Ludwick, Sydney Kennard and Linden Beasley and freshman Alexandria Lee have limited roles, seeing time off the bench on occasion. Junior Sydney Morrow is another ACL-casualty, who is sidelined for the season.
The DJO girls are at their best when they are sharing the ball, making the defense move with good ball movement and finding an open teammate with a pass. Like most of your championship caliber teams out there, this contingent thrives when it is playing outstanding team ball with the sum being greater than the individual parts. What this team lacks in size (in truth, no true big girl in the paint), it more than makes up for with their drive and determination to win, while also possessing good savvy and instincts for the game. Those attributes were demonstrated in victories over Holy Child, McNamara and Georgetown Visitation – all ranked in The Post Top 20 at one time or another this winter
I really, really like this team. Get a shot, take in a game – and I think you will too. They do a lot right on the high school hardwood.
This is Tommy Orndorff, and that was The Week That Was.