Jalinda Venable figured to be an integral part of the Mount Vernon girls basketball team’s quest to repeat as National District champions in 2010.
The senior point guard had talent: "She sees plays two and three seconds before they actually happen," Mount Vernon head coach Terry Henderson said before the season in the Dec. 3 edition of the Gazette. "Sometimes she’s actually putting the ball in places girls should be and just haven’t made it there yet."
She had credentials: Venable garnered first team All-National District honors her junior season.
But she didn’t have desire.
Venable practiced with the Majors in late November but decided she no longer wanted to play around one week before the team’s Dec. 4 season opener at West Potomac.
"I felt like this wasn’t what I was meant to do," Venable said Tuesday. "My heart wasn’t in it."
Venable missed Mount Vernon’s first three games — the Majors went 2-1 — before being convinced she belonged on the hardwood. It wasn’t so much a rush of desire that returned Venable to the Majors, but rather a realization that working hard in an area of ability would better her tomorrow. Venable has a goal of going to college.
"After awhile people talked to me about it and I realized it’s not so much what I want to do now but it will help me in the future, so I decided to keep on playing," Venable said. "A lot of people stayed on top of me [saying], ‘If you’re so good, why don’t you want to play? Why would you waste talent?’"
Venable joined the Majors for their trip to California for a holiday tournament Dec. 26 and 28-30 at Oaks Christian School in Westlake Village. As one of Mount Vernon’s best players and its point guard, Venable is in a leadership position. After missing three games, however, Venable felt like a hypocrite upon her return.
"I felt like at one point I let them down," she said. "Who am I to be like, ‘You need to work hard.’ But they respected me so I just kept leading."
Venable said the close-knit nature of the Majors helped ease her transition.
"It was awkward to a certain extent, but at the same time all my teammates had talked to me and really wanted me to be back on the team," she said. "We’re like a family so it was easier for [me] to come back. We’re real close to each other so it wasn’t that hard."
Henderson said the team responded well to Venable’s return.
"I think the girls accepted her back," he said Tuesday. "Jalinda is the type of person — I’d like her to be more of a leader in practice [rather than just during games] — she does look out for other girls’ feelings. Just coming back, she probably didn’t feel she demanded that respect. But she’s Jalinda Venable. It was an awkward situation that we went through but every team goes through a little adversity. We weathered the storm and we’re ready to roll."
Mount Vernon has won eight of 12 games since Venable came back. The Majors are 10-5, 7-2 in the National District.
On Tuesday, Mount Vernon hosted its biggest threat to the district crown: Edison, which won five straight titles before last season. Edison was led by National District MVP Myisha Goodwin, the one point guard in the Northern Region Henderson said he considers superior to Venable. The Eagles prevailed, 62-59, and Goodwin outscored Venable, 23-13. The two rarely defended one another. Regardless, Venable’s talent’s were on display as she knocked down a pair of 3-pointers, scored on several drives to the basket and her quickness made her a defensive presence. She isn’t knocking down as many perimeter shots as Henderson would like, but the coach is confident her shots will start to fall.
"She’s a point guard that can score," Henderson said. "One of her best attributes is she sees the floor extremely well. … She can flat out score. We’ll take those wide-open 3s. They haven’t been falling. That’s good and bad. Right now, they’re not falling, but the more she keeps shooting them and [keeping] that confidence going, they’re going to fall when we need them to."
Venable said she didn’t get caught up in the pressure of facing Edison or Goodwin.
"[Last season I did], but then I just took it as another game," Venable said. "I have to do what I have to do regardless of who we’re playing or if the other team has a good point guard. My team needs me. I’m not going to change how I play just because I’m playing against another good point guard."
<b>Dealing with pressure</b>
Few know more about dealing with pressure than Bishop O’Connell point guard Kendall Marshall. As a sixth-grader, the Dumfries, Va., native garnered media attention when an editor of an online publication ranked Marshall the nation’s No. 1 recruit for that age group. As a high school sophomore, Marshall committed to the University of North Carolina. As a senior, Marshall is the nation’s No. 22 overall recruit in the class of 2010 and the No. 6 point guard, according to ESPN.com.
While Marshall plays a position which attracts the focus of others, the 6-foot-4 left-hander has faced scrutiny longer than many could imagine.
"It’s tough. That’s probably one of the hardest things for me as I’ve grown up — since I was 12 years old. I’ve always been in the spotlight," Marshall said. "You just have to keep working hard and be able to get through that because at the end of the day, people are going to criticize you. The more you’re in the spotlight, the more they’re going to be nitpicky, the more they’re going to notice all the [bad] things instead of the positive things you do, so you just have to be able to stay positive and work hard."
Marshall said he felt more pressure once he committed to North Carolina.
"I had that target on my back now," he said. "All eyes are on me every time I step on the court. People whisper behind your back, they’re talking about you: ‘That’s the kid right there.’ So I just have to go out and perform every night."
Marshall has the ability to score, but makes his biggest impacts distributing the ball, playing defense and being a leader.
"I approach every game, first of all, thinking I’m going to win," he said. "You have to go into the game with that mentality. … Second of all, I have to put my team on my back. Not scoring-wise, but to put them all on the same page. … It takes a lot of confidence. … [There is] a fine line between being cocky and confident. You have to be able to yell at a player and realize off the court you all are still going to be cool, but he can hate you … on the court. He will follow you if you tell him the right thing."
Dr. Keith Kaufman, a Washington, D.C. therapist specializing in sports psychology, said it is important for a point guard to maintain balance in his or her approach.
A point guard should "be decisive and confident but at the same time be balanced and incorporate as many facets as possible," Kaufman said. "… Basketball players like to get really fired up but they need to make sure they’re not too fired up so they’re making good decisions and thinking clearly. … [A point guard should] express confidence and decisiveness but at the same time survey the opinions of teammates. … If you have a point guard who isn’t buying into what the rest of the team is doing that can create a lot of problems."
<b>Be a leader</b>
Cavanaugh Hagen is in her second season as head coach of the T.C. Williams (Alexandria) girls basketball team. Hagen was a point guard and four-year starter at T.C. Williams. After graduating in 2001, she went on to play at Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y. Hagen said the most important traits a point guard can have are confidence and leadership.
"You have to be a confident point guard because if not then you’ll get rattled easily — your team will get rattled," she said. "I think if you’re the one that’s leading that you need to be the one that has control over situations on the court. … If you don’t demand the ball in your hands your team won’t know what to do because you’re the one that’s supposed to make them better, or set them up for success."
<b>Pass First Works for Kahlenberg</b>
It’s early in Friday night’s game against Richard Montgomery (Rockville, Md.) when Whitman (Bethesda, Md.) point guard Caroline Kahlenberg fires a cross-court pass to Susan Russell, who finishes with a transition layup. Later, Kahlenberg finds Clara Kelly cutting down the lane for a bucket and a 13-point lead. Finally, with the Vikings attempting to survive a Rockets comeback, Kahlenberg tosses an inbound pass to a streaking Russell, who scores and is fouled.
Kahlenberg, a three-year starter, has been a key part of Whitman’s 11-3 start. The left-handed floor general specializes in getting others involved, including eight assists in Friday’s win over Richard Montgomery and seven in Monday’s victory against Walter Johnson (Bethesda). While Russell carries much of the scoring load for Whitman, Kahlenberg distributes the ball and runs the offense.
Strong point guard play is critical to the success of any basketball team. While there are different ways to play the position, Kahlenberg’s pass-first approach suits the Vikings well.
"She came to us with a gift for passing and she’s very selfless as a person — team is the most important thing," head coach Pete Kenah said. "I think those are real important traits for a point guard. It seems in today’s game the scoring point guard is what’s so en vogue. She’s more like the throwback, the Bob Cousy, John Stockton [type of player]. … She’ll take shots when she needs to — I’d certainly like her to shoot more — but her nature is pass first."
Kahlenberg is in her fourth season with the varsity. She was a shooting guard her freshman season before taking over as the starting point guard her sophomore campaign. She played both positions for youth teams, but said she prefers running the point.
"I like to distribute the ball," she said. "I like to communicate with the coach. I like when other people make shots. … I definitely like to have the ball in my hand. Especially as a senior, I feel confident with it. I feel like I can get it to the open person."
Kahlenberg excels at both ends of the floor — she had seven steals Monday — and is a team captain. While Kenah would like No. 1 to be more aggressive at times from a scoring standpoint, the coach said he’s lucky to have such a leader. Kahlenberg has an impact in many facets of the game while spreading the offensive wealth to her teammates.
She is "just so cerebral," Kenah said. "She has an incredibly high basketball IQ. Not only that, but she’s a wonderful teammate. Teammates love playing for her. … I learned with Caroline, she is who she is. She’ll never be a 20-point-a-game scorer, but she really fills up the stat sheet. … I think as a coach you have to appreciate the player and not try to make them someone they’re not."
Kahlenberg said experience has her feeling more comfortable on the floor. She also said the closeness of the Vikings helps her succeed as well as enjoy her — and the team’s — achievements. Kahlenberg and Russell have strong chemistry on the court, are friends off of it and will play against one another at the college level next season. Kahlenberg will attend Middlebury College and Russell is headed to Bates College — both members of the New England Small College Athletic Conference.
"I’m definitely more confident dribbling, especially if they’re pressuring me," Kahlenberg said. "I would look to get the pressure off me as a sophomore but now I sort of enjoy going one-on-one against a person. I think I know more about the game now. As a sophomore, I looked more to Kenah to call the plays but now I like to discuss [situations]. … I think one of the big things about being point guard is having good players to pass to. For me it’s really important to have a really close team because then you feel good when you pass to someone and you feel good when they [score]. If someone is a huge ball hog or not nice off the court, it’s more difficult to be happy when you pass to them [for a] score, so it’s really good to have an off-the-court relationship with them as well."