In the sphere of high school girls basketball in the Northern Region, the Oakton Cougars have reigned over the Concorde District in much the same way Queen Victoria did over England. That is to say, they’ve held power over their dominion for a long time. So long, in fact, that the school’s online archives don’t stretch back far enough to reveal the last time they didn’t win the district title.
Yet a new threat has emerged that just might have Oakton on the brink of a downfall. Centreville, a team that finished last season with a 12-12 record, has shot out of the gates with 14 wins in its first 15 games. With 12 of those wins coming by double digits, the surging Wildcats have hardly been tested to this point in the season.
That will change Friday night, when the Wildcats travel to Oakton to square off against the very team they aim to depose. The challenge of their task won’t just be to beat a defending state champion team with a 13-2 record; it will also be to erase the demons of an 18-year losing streak. The Cougars have claimed each of the past 29 meetings between the two schools, and they want to make it 30.
Even with such a daunting obstacle ahead, Centreville players are eager to meet their nemesis head on, knowing solid performances in big games like this will be necessary if they want to go after the school’s first Concorde title.
“We’re really excited,” Centreville junior point guard Jenna Green said. “This game Friday is going to be very important for us. We haven’t beaten Oakton in a very long time. We want to win a district title, and beating them will help us get there.”
Even with the district tournament still seven games away, Centreville has already matched its highest win total since the 2010-11 season, when it finished 14-10. The Wildcats haven’t piled up more than 14 wins since the 2007-08 season, which produced a 19-5 record.
Given the dedication his team has exercised away from the spotlight, first-year head coach Tom Watson says his team’s hot start doesn’t surprise him at all.
“We practice hard. They don’t leave here without just completely sweating and dying,” Watson said. “I was always told that a game was a formality of practice. You win and you lose a game in practice. You play the game just as a formality. You should walk in there already knowing you’re going to win.”
The reason Centreville’s practices are so grueling lies in its fast-paced style of play. Running end-to-end drills back and forth on the longest court in the region builds up plenty of stamina, a much-needed attribute for a run-and-gun squad that thrives in transition rather than in the more commonplace half-court sets often seen in high school girls basketball.
It’s a style stitched to the basketball IQ of their coach, whose 12 years of coaching the Fairfax Stars and Western Fairfax in AAU have made him accustomed to an up-tempo approach. Watson is fortunate to have the kind of fast and durable players needed to execute such a game plan.
Chief among them is Green, who Watson calls the best point guard he’s ever coached. Averaging 17.9 points per game, Green uses her prodigious quickness and vision to operate the team’s Memphis-style offense, which allows her to drive and dish to open teammates on the perimeter. That’s a winning strategy when you have so many players who can put the ball in the basket, something that has led to a scoring clip of 68.7 points per game. According to Watson, there have been nine games this season where every player on the team has entered the scoring column.
“We definitely have a lot of shooters,” senior forward Tori Collar said. “Pretty much anyone can shoot from the outside. We love to penetrate the key and go up. Whether we get a foul or not, we do our best to make it every time.”
Centreville’s high-octane scoring offense will be met by a sturdy Oakton defense that has surrendered just 41.3 points per game so far this season. Rather than worry about Oakton’s individual talent, Watson is more concerned about the way longtime Oakton coach Fred Priester will prepare his team, which like Centreville had a full week to get ready for Friday’s showdown.
“I’ve scouted hundreds of high school games, and it just seems like [Oakton coach Fred Priester’s] teams are extremely disciplined,” Watson said. “So not only are they very skilled, but they’re disciplined as well. You have to beat his kids, and you have to beat the intelligence of his program, and that’s why they’re so successful.”
If the Wildcats want to meet their goal of winning their first regional playoff game since at least 2003, they’ll have to steel themselves for battles like the one looming Friday. Their mission to dethrone Oakton starts now.