Oakton holiday basketball event featured a talented field of teams



An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified a school competing in the event as Elizabeth Seton High School in Maryland. Seton High School was in Virginia. The article has been updated.

Most of the players who entered the Oakton gym for the three-day, three-game round robin did so as members of teams with long winning streaks. And so, between bites of pizza at a concession stand in the lobby, they talked about the high expectations of their playoff basketball programs.

Among the contenders were three Northern Virginia public schools—Woodgrove (7-0), Acton (9-1) and No. 12 Robinson (7-2)—that, even after a challenging week, were undefeated by Northern Virginia fans.

But after a season of solid wins, many players said they needed a challenge like Friday, the final day of the event. Tougher competition. More fatigue. Good kick in the teeth. On the sidelines, one of the coaches told his players, “Don’t be stupid.”

Another said, “This is not our brand of basketball.”

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We’ll try to simulate [these experiences] In practice — we’ll go five-seven and try different things,” Robinson coach TJ Deed said after a 38-28 loss to Maryland Private School, Holy Child (8-3). “But man, that’s hard to emulate.”

For Robinson, the impossible simulation was a tenacious holy child defense, led by junior guard Jedah Wilson, which led to flashbacks to a Madison defense that eliminated the Rams in the Class VI semifinals last year.

Although the Rams remained competitive in the first quarter, their inside bread-and-butter scores were poor as the holy child embraced a more physical game and swallowed Robinson’s paint touches. A 9-7 Rams lead at the end of the first quarter turned into a 17-11 deficit at the half and 31-16 at the end of the third quarter.

“When you see that wheel start to wobble, it’s not long before a couple more start to wobble, and now the bus has broken down,” said Deed. “But there were moments of resilience. We fought back.”

Striker Caroline Schempp said such reps are far more valuable than the explosions that come at playoff time.

“After this game early, it’s a lesson for defenders that we’re going to have in the postseason,” Shemp said.

Woodgrove, which has won its three games by a combined 80 points, will start 2023 as the only Northern Virginia team with an undefeated record. But the round robin took its toll, as the Wolverines allowed South County (2-7) to stay within striking distance during the second half of Friday’s contest.

However, a clean registry is still a clean registry. After they lost streak pins from last year’s race to the Class 5 state title game, the Wolverines described the event as a “reminder” to the rest of the region just how dangerous — with athleticism, balance and a 10-year-deep bench seat — they can be.

“Everyone knows we’re good for the Loudoun County team,” said team captain Gina Steadman. “We were proving we can play out of the county. We’re not just good for Loudoun County.”

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Octon’s stock rose after Friday’s 44-37 win over Seton (8-4). While players from the host school said the experience diminished with their mid-December trip to the Midwest — during which they played the defending Indiana state champions at the “Hoosiers” home gym — the win was the result of previous bonding experiences.

Led by senior guard Caitlin Crump and junior guard Finley Tarr, the Cougars passed far more than dribbled at the behest of coach Fred Priester. Oakton started the game on a 16-3 stretch, running and shooting until the visiting Conquistadors could no longer keep up.

“When we’re so tired and together every day, I feel like it bonds us,” said Tarr, who hit four three-pointers against Seton.