Oakton senior Elizabeth Manner walked off the court Tuesday night with a feeling she hadn’t experienced in more than a year and a half.
Despite a game-high 30 points and 17 rebounds, Manner was left to reflect on a 68-52 loss against a Mount Vernon basketball team that displayed dominance from start to finish. The defeat snapped the Cougars’ 34-game winning streak and trampled their aura of invincibility in the process.
Yet Tuesday’s outcome might have done more to strengthen Oakton’s psyche than damage it. Coming off an undefeated season that saw them cruise to a state championship, the Cougars needed something to remind them that success isn’t hereditary.
“I think it helps some of our younger kids see that we can’t just step onto the court and be like, ‘Oh yeah, we’re going to win. We’re Oakton,’” Manner said. “We have to go out and play hard every single game.”
Looked at another way, the defeat served as a reminder that Oakton isn’t the same team as the one that annihilated every local opponent it faced last season. The Cougars lost seven seniors to graduation from that squad, including two of the region’s premier players in Katherine and Caroline Coyer. Those losses left Manner to lead a young group that might need time before it finds its groove.
Without the Coyer twins steering the ship, Oakton coach Fred Priester has turned to some first-time varsity players to guide his backcourt. Sophomore Lindsey Abed started at point guard against Mount Vernon, and she was substituted by freshman Alex Marquis throughout the game. Another newcomer to the starting lineup is sophomore guard Karlie Cronin, who notched 12 points against the Majors.
Mount Vernon’s relentless full-court press put Oakton’s youth on full display, as the Cougars committed 25 turnovers in the face of constant pressure defense. Oakton’s young guards appeared tired and frazzled as the game wore on against an experienced Mount Vernon team that returned four of five starters from last season’s 25-2 squad. Each of those two losses came against Oakton, which beat the Majors by a combined 54 points in those games last season.
“We’ll have to play pressure teams as the season goes on, and I don’t think anybody’s going to put more pressure on us than them,” said Priester, whose team lost at home for the first time since Jan. 15, 2010. “The turnovers I think were more mental turnovers. It’s not that they stole the ball from us per se, it’s that we were not experienced enough to maintain our composure.”
Mount Vernon junior guard Chanel Shannon unleashed a wealth of confidence that saw one soaring jump shot fall through the net after another. Shannon broke out for a career-high 26 points that included five 3-point buckets, while freshman Erin Irving tallied 12 points and seven rebounds. The 14-year-old newcomer scored eight of her points during a fourth quarter stretch in which star senior Kelly Loftus, who finished with 12 points, was on the bench with four fouls.
“Coming into the year, we knew we had a lot coming back, and we had some great freshmen coming up that could give us some great minutes,” Mount Vernon coach Courtney Coffer said. “This [win] really just lets us know exactly where we are at an early point in the season. I don’t even think we’re playing our best ball yet, which is the great thing because we can still improve and get better in a lot of areas.”
Though Oakton players and coaches might carry a more humble approach after Tuesday’s game, their expectations remain high. Priester pointed out that even after the Cougars graduated Jasmine Thomas — Oakton’s all-time leading scorer who now plays for the Washington Mystics — they earned a 22-3 record the following season. Oakton doesn’t necessarily expect to come away with a record that glossy this season, but they are determined not to let the graduation of the Coyer twins hinder their progress.
“Going undefeated last year was something we didn’t anticipate, so I certainly didn’t anticipate it this year,” Priester said. “It’s a learning experience for us. We’ll do better. It’s unlikely that we meet [Mount Vernon] again unless it’s deep in the regional tournament, so we’ve got plenty of time to get to work.”