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My week with girls basketball

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My week with girls basketball

Senior Molly Knox reaches for the ball. Whitman played Magruder on senior night, an annual tradition to honor an end to four years on Whitman basketball.

Senior Molly Knox reaches for the ball. Whitman played Magruder on senior night, an annual tradition to honor an end to four years on Whitman basketball.

Lukas Gates

Senior Molly Knox reaches for the ball. Whitman played Magruder on senior night, an annual tradition to honor an end to four years on Whitman basketball.

Lukas Gates

Lukas Gates

Senior Molly Knox reaches for the ball. Whitman played Magruder on senior night, an annual tradition to honor an end to four years on Whitman basketball.

By Mateo Gutierrez, Walt Whitman High School

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When I reached out to girls basketball coach Peter Kenah about shadowing his team for a week, he responded with “A week following the team! Get ready for laughter & crazy high volume!”

The girls varsity team is 19–3 and has been a dominant force in the county this season. I followed the team the week of Jan. 14. From Tuesday to Saturday—Monday was a snow day— I went to practices, games, socials and more to discover what goes into the team’s success.

Tuesday

Guard Jaclyn Morgan takes the ball to the hoop against guard Lexi Fleck. Morgan and Fleck are the two sophomores on the varsity team.

The week started off in spectacular fashion: a rivalry game against the B–CC Barons. The Vikes came into the game seeking revenge after their last season ended at the hands of the Barons.

Typically, 90 minutes before home games, the team has a shootaround in the small gym, which gives players an opportunity to get some last-minute practice shots in and go over the plays they plan to use in the game. They do the same for away games and leave to go to the opposing school right after.

“It’s nice to get extra warm-up time outside of the 20 minutes we get right before the game,” guard Anna Krush said. “We also review the other team’s plays and what defense they’re going to run, so it’s a nice refresher before the game.”

Before big games, Kenah starts shootaround with trivia on the opposing school. Questions before B-CC ranged from “Which player currently leads the county in free throws attempted & free throws made?” to “What Whitman teacher coaches one of the B-CC winter sports teams?”

In shootaround, center Leia Till worked on her shots in the post with help from injured guard Sophie deBettencourt. The Johns Hopkins commit, tore her ACL in the beginning of the season, sidelining her for the whole year. Although injured, deBettencourt still comes to practices and games to assist the players, whether it be warming them up or going over film with them.

After several drills and run-throughs of plays, the team huddled up before heading to B–CC. Kenah gave a quick pep talk to motivate the team before one of their biggest games of the year.

“Your mindset has got to be ready tonight,” Kenah said. “It’s going to be a battle.”

Facing a rowdy B-CC student section, the team initially had several communication struggles leading to missed opportunities and turnovers. In a timeout, Kenah took responsibility for the problem: “My fault for not communicating with you guys.”

Even after a tough first half, the Vikes still led by three points going into the break. In the second half, the Vikes really ramped it up. The bench grew increasingly energized; players and assistant coach Tammy Ross would jump out of their seats after every good play.

Kenah motivated and encouraged the players until the final whistle, yelling, “Way to be there for each other!” and “We’re not losing this game!” With strong late game defense and rebounding, the Vikes were able to pull out a win 52–48.

Till put her extra post practice to work, leading the team in scoring with 19 points.

“Offensively, we definitely took it to them,” Till said. “It was a little closer than what we wanted, but everyone played well and we’re feeling pretty good.”

Wednesday

Coach Kenah gives the team a pep talk. He focuses on players having the right mindset before and after big games.

Before they began practice, Kenah and the players went through their thoughts on last night’s victory and what they were planning to work on moving forward. Kenah broke the huddle with words of encouragement.

“After today’s practice, we’re going to walk out better physically, mentally and in all levels than when we came in,” Kenah said.

To warm up, the team played a game of soccer. Guards Molly Knox and Jaclyn Morgan, with their varsity soccer backgrounds, were put on different teams to level the playing field and the girls played a 4v4 game for 10 minutes.

After warmups, center Drew Meadows placed her speaker at half court and blasted “pump-up” music. While the guards began to practice with Kenah and the bigs worked with Ross, deBettencourt showed Morgan film from last night’s game to point out things she can improve on.

“The upperclassmen treat me like their little sister,” Morgan, a sophomore, said. “It’s a lot of fun, and it feels like a big family.”

Throughout practice, Till shouted out words of encouragement to the players, like “Oh yeah, Carter!” and “Let’s go Emma!” The team thrives on support from each other, high fiving after every shot made and hyping up teammates on defense.

“We really try to motivate each other and cheer everyone on,” guard Lexi Fleck said. “We’re all best friends and want everyone to be successful.”

The team ended their two-hour practice with 30 minutes of stretching in the weight room and then a 30-minute film session in Kenah’s portable. The girls lift two times a week in the fall, and they lift or stretch one to two times a week during the season. On Wednesday, they stretched and worked on basic floor exercises in a group while Kenah and Ross lifted on their own.

This story continues and was originally published on The Black & White on February 28, 2019.

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