The win over Princess Anne in last March’s state championship game was the Oakton girls basketball team’s 110th in the four years Caroline and Katherine Coyer suited up for the Cougars. Now that they’ve moved on together to Villanova, the question everyone’s asking even coach Fred Priester is: “What will life be like after the twins?”
And the answer is simply this—he doesn’t know for sure, but he promises one thing: “We don’t fold up shop after these kids leave.”
The Cougars had a star player not too long ago—Jasmine Thomas, who is now in the WNBA after an outstanding career at Duke—and the season after she left, the team went 24-2. And this year, they started off with a 58-33 win over Lee Tuesday night before games this weekend against Wakefield and Langley.
“We spend an awful lot of time trying to develop kids outside of the limelight,” said Priester, who has 558 wins in a career that’s spanned 30 years and two schools. “That’s a strength of our program, and we have some kids that are looking for their opportunity.”
Senior captain Elizabeth Manner, imposing at 6-foot-1, is Oakton’s key returning player. While she put up big numbers every few games the last two seasons and shared some of the spotlight with the Coyers, she often deferred to them. Now she’ll have to take charge.
“I got used to not playing with them during AAU games over the summer,” said Manner, who nearly averaged a double-double (10 points and 10 rebounds) last season. “It makes me have to do things I didn’t normally do last year. I’ll shoot and try to dribble. I used to be able to give the ball to Caroline and run and post up. But now it’s made me into a more diverse player, which has been good.”
Without those two transcendent players, Priester said he’ll have to rely on his deep roster this year. Likely to join Manner with regular minutes are guards Karlie Cronin and Torri Marquis, and versatile seniors Helen Roberts and Angela Sickels. He noted new-to-varsity players Colette Holland, Kelsey McWilliams and Jazmine Carter as players he’d like to see contribute, too.
“It would be awesome to win 31 games again,” said Manner, who noted the Cougars graduated five other players from last year’s team. “But we’re not setting goals like that because it’s a new team and a new season. Everyone’s working hard trying to fill in the spots we’re missing.”
Marquis is one of those players. As a freshman and sophomore, she wasn’t relied upon as much, but even before the Coyers graduated, she began preparing for this season, knowing she’d have more responsibility. Some of those workouts included putting on cleats and running the steep grass hill that leads to the football field at Lake Braddock and doing distance runs on the rolling hills near Robinson.
“For me, I have to work a lot on my speed since I’m not very naturally fast,” said Marquis. “We’ll run up these long hills 10 or 12 times. At Robinson it’s not a very steep hill, but it’s a long hill. And at Lake Braddock we’ll do the short hill 30 or 50 times, going forward, backward, sideways, things like that.”
Priester said the beginning of every season is a feeling-out period. He and his staff need to see which plays suit the team and which players have improved enough in the offseason to take on more responsibility along the way. He used the words “versatility” and “chemistry” more than once to describe his team. But perhaps, for a team that’s had winning seasons in all but two years under Priester and earned 14 district titles and multiple trips to the state playoffs, the most important word is one he didn’t say: pride.
“No captain wants it to go south on their watch,” he said before leaving to go start practice, where his players were already on the floor, working on free throws.