Kesha Walton bends at the waist and places her hands on her knees as she watches members of the T.C. Williams girls basketball team work during Tuesday’s practice. Suddenly, one of the Titans is out of position on defense. Walton stops the action in a stern, straight-forward fashion.
"Where should you be?" Walton asks the player, who answers correctly. "Then get there!"
Later, Walton passes out push-up punishments: 10 per mistake.
Walton was an assistant with T.C. Williams from 2004-08 before leaving to take an assistant coaching position at Hayfield last season. Now she’s back as the Lady Titans’ head coach, taking over for Cavanaugh Hagan, who is now an assistant at South County. Many athletes in the program are familiar with Walton, having worked with her at the junior varsity level. With Walton, the Lady Titans know they’re going to work.
"It’s been very difficult," said senior Jasmine Norman, dripping with sweat during Tuesday’s practice. "It’s refreshing, though. It feels like a whole new program and a new system. … [Walton] definitely doesn’t take any mess. Once you’re on the court, you’re on the court. Everything [that happened earlier], you might as well put that out the door. If you had a bad day, good day, sad day, it doesn’t matter. Once you’re on the floor, your mind better be fresh, ready to start because, if not, it’s going to be a hell of a practice."
Walton takes over a program which two seasons ago won 24 games and reached the state tournament, due primarily to the performance of senior All-American Tierra Ruffin-Pratt. Last season, however, TC finished 6-14 and lost in the opening round of the Patriot District tournament with a team composed primarily of athletes limited in varsity experience. Trying to replace the University of North Carolina-bound Ruffin-Pratt and the majority of the 2008-09 starting lineup proved too much for TC.
"I understand what they had last year: they went through a down period," Walton said. "I know what it was like when we were at the top. That’s my goal: to get us back to the top. … They know what I expect, already, so I don’t have to change their mindset as far as my expectations. They know I’m a hard coach, but I’m fair."
What does Walton expect?
"I expect them to come and get it in day in and day out," she said. "To work hard, give me 110 percent on the court and off the court."
Norman, a 5-foot-10 guard, is the team’s top returner, averaging 12 points and 8 rebounds per contest last season. A Division I recruit, Norman will be one of the Titans’ top offensive threats.
"Jasmine works extremely hard," Walton said. "She has leadership, she gets after it. You can’t ask for a better player than that."
Junior guard Gaby Moss (5’8"), a transfer from Kansas, is one of the team’s top perimeter threats and a projected starter. Moss said Walton is pushing her harder than she’s been pushed in the past.
"I heard about Tierra and the tradition [TC] had," Moss said. "And I heard they had a new coach, too."
Junior guard Sofie Schedler (5’5") and junior forward Johne’e Lewis (5’11") are also projected starters. Senior guard Sade’ Barber (5’6") and sophomore guard Christian Roberts (5’10") also have a chance to crack the starting lineup. Senior guard Rainie Summa (5’8") is a perimeter sharpshooter who is getting looks from Division III schools.
Senior forward Demi Williams (5’11"), junior guard Cashmire Norfleet (5’7"), junior forward Brooke Ninman (5’9") and junior center Tiffani Gibson (6’1") will compete for playing time.
TC opens its season at 5:15 p.m. on Dec. 3 against Stone Ridge (Bethesda, Md.) as part of the Art Turner Tip-Off at Paul VI. The Lady Titans are eager to bounce back from last season’s disappointing outcome.
"Everybody has a new mindset," Schedler said. "They’re more positive than they were last year. Last it was like, ‘Oh, Tierra’s gone.’ It seemed more negative. Now we’re ready to start the new season."