With solid players such as Melissa Wilson, Andie Romness and Caitlin Baker, the potential is certainly there for the McLean High girls' basketball team to be among the better group of teams in the Liberty District this season.
The questions facing the Highlanders (6-5 record, 1-3 district) with the recent start of the district schedule is the team's ability to play at a fairly high level over an entire game as well as its ability to consistently play with high energy.
Over three district games last week, McLean had both good and bad stretches of play. The team's best game was at the start of the week, a 51-35 district road win at Marshall on Monday, Jan. 4. The Highlanders struggled over the game's first five minutes with their shooting touch, although McLean coach Mike O'Brien said he was pleased with his players' shot selections early on. They just weren't fallen. But McLean heated up as the game continued and, particularly from the second through the fourth quarters, played good basketball.
McLean received a balanced scoring attack in the victory. Erin Mundy, a junior forward, led the Highlanders with 11 points, while Romness, a junior guard, added nine. Other scoring contributions came from freshmen guard Shellie Kanuit (8 points), senior forward Patricia Pascoe (6) and Wilson (7 points), the team's senior forward.
In its following game on Wednesday, Jan. 6, McLean lost by a point at Jefferson. O'Brien credited a hard-working Jefferson team (3-8) with earning the down-to-the-wire win. The coach said his team did not play with the same intensity it had shown against Marshall.
On last Friday night, McLean lost at home to defending district champion Madison, 60-47. The Highlanders fell behind by 18 points in the first half before surging back and getting within four points late in the third quarter. But a pair of long range Madison three-pointers in the final 14 seconds of the third quarter put the Warhawks back into the driver's seat and they went on to the win.
McLean struggled throughout the first half against Madison, trailing 18-8 after one quarter and 32-18 at the half. The Highlanders, however, played much better in the second half.
"We played a very inspired second half," said O'Brien.
Wilson scored 14 points in the loss and Romness tallied 13. Baker, meanwhile, added seven points.
"We've been inconsistent," said O'Brien, summing up the team's first 11 games this season. "We're a very athletic group. We want to try to outhustle teams. We're trying to focus on our intensity level. If we can figure out how to play [a strong] four quarters, we can play with anyone in the district."
Romness and Wilson are leading McLean in scoring this season with 10 points per game each. The duo is also the team's top leading rebounders.
"Andie is a very athletic wing who has the ability to go into the lane and draw contact," said O'Brien, of Romness' determination to get to the basket. "She has no fears of going into the lane and goes in hard and strong."
Wilson, meanwhile, is the teams' best inside player. She also has the ability to shoot from long range. At times, trailing a fast break, the ball will be kicked out to Wilson who will nail a trey.
<b>OVER THE HOLIDAYS</b>, McLean competed at the Stafford High Christmas Tournament outside of Fredericksburg. There, the Highlanders went 2-1 overall. The wins came over Colonial Forge (Stafford) and Riverbend High (Fredericksburg). The lone loss was to Woodbridge High, 42-39, on Dec. 29. Wilson, who scored 15 points in the loss to Woodbridge, earned All-Tournament honors for her stellar play over the three games.
"The tournament was good for the kids because we didn't know what to expect," said O'Brien, of going up against teams from outside of the Northern Region. "We went into every game mentally thinking it would be a hard game and we were ready at tip off."
McLean was scheduled to play a pair of district games this week, at home against South Lakes on Tuesday, Jan. 12, and at Stone Bridge High this Friday night, Jan. 15.