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Oakton girls’ basketball coach Fred Priester always knew he had an exceptional defensive talent in Katherine Coyer, but at the beginning of the season he challenged his star to be better.

“She was always a very good defensive player,” he said. “But when Zora Stephenson graduated last year, I told her she needed to become a better offensive player.”

Katherine often takes on the toughest defensive assignments and lets her twin sister, Caroline, do the majority of the scoring. But Priester decided to focus on making Katherine a two-way player instead of a shutdown defender.

Katherine responded to the challenge by becoming one of the Cougars’ top offensive threats, and in Monday’s Northern Region final, the Villanova-bound guard turned in her strongest performance of the season.

Against West Springfield, the Oakton (28-0, 10-0 Concorde) continued its undefeated season with a convincing 63-49 victory. The Cougars were led by Katherine’s 29-point effort.

“Laying off on offense doesn’t help us at all and I know that,” Katherine said. “Coming out strong and knowing that if I’m not playing both ends on the floor we won’t win this game. That just pushed me a lot.”

In the first half, Oakton took a lead with a 9-0 run after the opening minutes. The Cougars were paced by Katherine, who scored eight in the first quarter. Oakton jumped ahead 12-8 at the end of the first, and led 17-8 early in the second quarter.

Throughout the game, West Springfield struggled with turnovers and converting easy shots. And despite clawing back at the end of the first half, the Spartans’ shooting woes continued into the second.

By the end of third quarter, Oakton had a commanding 40-27 lead, and it appeared the Spartans were on the verge of being routed.

“We just played it possession by possession,” Katherine said. “We knew it would be a tough game and that Logan Battle is tough to keep off the boards. We stayed focused on that.”

West Springfield kept the game close in the final quarter thanks to the gritty play of Battle (18 points), but foul trouble kept the Spartans from making up any ground.

By the time Battle and April Robinson (10 points) became factors in the game, it was too late.

“They started to do what they were supposed to be doing the whole game,” West Springfield coach Bill Gibson said. “But it was too late.”

Oakton’s win means the Cougars possess home-court advantage in the opening round of the state tournament.

The Cougars will face Monacan High School on Friday night at Robinson; West Springfield will travel to Virginia Commonwealth University to face Highland Springs on the same day.

Home-court advantage is only a minor prize to Katherine and the Cougars.

They’re more excited about being back in the tournament after missing states by one game last season, and getting a bit of revenge on West Springfield.

In last season’s region semifinal, the Spartans upset the Cougars, 66-51, and went on to win the region title.

“We have a bunch of returners and a bunch of us are still bitter about the game last year,” Katherine said. “It gave us a lot of momentum and a lot of pick-me-up before this game.”

ralbers@fairfaxtimes.com