Back in the winter of 1994, the powerful Madison High girls’ basketball team, near season’s end, looked to be as unstoppable as a runaway train moving on a downhill path at breakneck speed.
The then-defending state AAA champion Warhawks, under legendary coach Pat Deegan, were a perfect 24-0 going into their Northern Region tournament semifinals meeting against a less heralded, overachieving Fairfax High squad, under head coach Pete King, which had captured the Potomac District tournament title and reached the region Final Four for the first time in the program’s history.
Madison and Fairfax, in the region semifinals meeting, met on a March Friday night at George Mason University’s Patriot Center. The winner would advance to the region finals and earn an automatic berth into the state tournament. For the loser, the season would be over.
In a dramatic, down-to-the-wire affair, Fairfax upset Madison, 41-40, to eliminate the Warhawks. The loss ended Madison’s 48-game winning streak and ended its hopes of capturing consecutive region and state titles. It marked the first time in six years that the Warhawks would not be headed for the state tournament.
It was a breakthrough victory for King and his Rebels.
“We just really wanted to beat them,” Jen Seguin, a senior forward for Fairfax, was quoted as saying in a March 10, 1994 story in the Fairfax Connection. “We were just telling ourselves we had nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
The Rebels dominated the boards that game, out-rebounding Madison 42-24 and bringing down 20 offensive rebounds. Seguin had 15 of her team’s rebounds while teammate center Kristin Sherrill had 10.
“We haven’t been out-rebounded all year,” said Deegan, in the newspaper story. “Fairfax was just determined to win the ball game.”
FAIRFAX GRABBED the game’s early momentum with an aggressive, stifling man-to-man defense that was a huge key in the Rebels carrying a 21-14 lead into the halftime. Madison, that game, was without star shooting guard Katie Smrcka-Duffy, who had averaged 25 points per game before being sidelined late in the season with a knee injury.
Nobody else was able to step up for the Warhawks, who shot just 28 percent against Fairfax’s determined defense.
“It was definitely defense and rebounding that won it,” said Seguin.
Madison made a valiant comeback that fell just short. Trailing 38-27 with just over 5 minutes remaining, the Warhawks rallied to get within 41-40 in the closing seconds. Madison, on a late-game possession, looked as if it would take the lead with 20 seconds remaining, but Seguin’s strong defense resulted in a Madison missed shot from underneath the basket as the Rebels held on for the breakthrough.
Two Fairfax underclassmen guards — sophomore Rika Drea (8 points) and freshmen point guard Megan Dempsey (11) — had huge games that night.
Fairfax, following the win over Madison, went on to fall in the region finals and ultimately saw its season end with a 51-37 state tournament quarterfinals loss to Woodbridge High in a game played at Gar-Field High School.
Seguin and Sherrill scored 14 and 10 points, respectively, in the state playoff affair while Loree Bradee scored eight in the final game of an outstanding 21-6 season for the Rebels.
By reaching the region finals and going to states, the Fairfax Rebels of 1994 had accomplished more than any other previous Fairfax girls’ team.
“This team has been spectacular this season,” said King. “It has been a group of overachievers.”