Springfield West Springfield High’s bid for a second straight Northern Region girls’ basketball crown was not realized on Monday night when the Spartans, going up against the team they eliminated at regionals a year ago, lost a hard-fought title contest to unbeaten Oakton, 63-49, at Robinson Secondary.
It was not a season-ending loss for West Springfield (26-3), which along with Oakton (28-0) will represent the Northern Region at this week’s eight-team state AAA playoffs. The Spartans will travel to Richmond to play Highland Springs, the Central Region champion, at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Siegel Center this Friday night at 7. Oakton, also on Friday night at 7, will remain close to home when it faces Central Region runner-up Monacan High (Richmond) at Robinson.
A year ago, West Springfield defeated Oakton in the region semifinals, handing the Cougars their first loss of the season and ending their bid to win a third straight region crown. The Spartans, following that win, went on to defeat T.C. Williams, 46-41, in the region title game at Robinson.
Then at states, the Spartans defeated Woodside High (Newport News) before seeing their season end at the state semifinals with a loss to Stonewall Jackson at the Siegel Center.
ON MONDAY, Oakton and West Springfield met once again in a huge region postseason affair, this time in the region finals. Just like a year ago, Oakton entered the meeting with the Spartans unbeaten. This time, however, head coach Fred Priester’s Cougars were able to defeat the Spartans to earn their third region crown in four years.
“It’s definitely great to win, especially after last year’s [semifinals loss],” said Oakton center Elizabeth Manner. “We’ve continued to work hard all year.”
West Springfield fell behind 12-8 after the first quarter and could never get even or take the lead the rest of the night. Oakton senior guard Katherine Coyer had perhaps the best game of her career, scoring 29 points and pulling down eight rebounds to lead the Cougars. Coyer, the twin sister of backcourt mate Caroline Coyer, earned Tournament MVP honors during postgame ceremonies.
“She pretty much made everything she shot,” said West Springfield senior guard April Robinson (10 points), of Katherine Coyer’s outstanding night. “They played a better game than we did. We came out kind of timid. We’ll rebound from this and come back at it on Friday.”
Robinson, along with teammates Logan Battle (18 points, 9 rebounds) and Amy Berglund (6 points), were named to the seven-member All-Region Tournament Team. Robinson said making All-Tournament was bitter-sweet because of the finals loss.
“It was a good feeling but [compared to winning] the awards don’t matter,” she said. “I want to focus, and the team wants to focus on winning states.”
For Oakton, along with Katherine Coyer, who accepted her first-ever region tournament MVP honor, Caroline Coyer (6 points) and fellow Cougar Karlie Cronin (6 points) were also named to the All-Tournament Team.
The Coyer twins have played vital roles in the Cougars’ unparalleled success over the past four years. Caroline, the team’s point guard, is one of the Northern Region’s all-time best players. Katherine, at shooting guard, is a tremendous defensive player who scores when called upon and can match the on-court prowess of the best players out there. The duo, in both their freshmen and sophomore years, helped Oakton win region crowns with Caroline garnering tourney MVP accolades.
No one was happier than Caroline when Katherine was named this year’s tourney MVP. Both are set to play college basketball on scholarship next year at Villanova University in Philadelphia.
“A lot of people in the past did not give her the respect she deserved,” said Caroline, of her sometimes unheralded twin and teammate. “We knew she had to have a great game tonight and she did.”
Katherine had a simply dominant game and helped the Cougars get off to a good start with eight first quarter points. Oakton, which led 24-18 at halftime, saw West Springfield get within 25-20 when Spartans’ junior forward Lindsay Mares converted a 10-foot turnaround shot off the left wing early in the second half. But Kathleen Coyer responded with a 14-foot jumper to make it 27-20. The basket started a 15-7 Oakton surge over the remainder of the quarter, helping the Cougars take a 40-27 advantage into the fourth quarter.
WEST SPRINGFIELD never relented and, behind the strong fourth quarter play of Battle, fought back to within seven points at 51-44 on a pair of Battle free throws with two minutes, 53 seconds remaining. Throughout that final quarter, Battle, a senior forward, had kept her team in contention by scoring on hard drives to the basket. Fourteen of her team-high 18 points came in that final quarter.
But Oakton weathered the Spartans’ fourth quarter threat. Following the free throws by Battle which got West Springfield within seven points, Oakton’s Manner (12 points, 8 rebounds), a fundamentally-sound center, scored from close range while being fouled. Her ensuing free throw made the score 54-44 Cougars. Several moments later, Manner would answer a basket by Battle with a nifty, inside spin move layup off the left side to make it 56-46 with 2:12 left. West Springfield never closed within 10 points after that.
“I really think we all came out to play tonight,” said Manner. “We were patient and physically tough. We knew if West Springfield took something away [defensively] we could counter.”
West Springfield’s only prior two losses had come during the holidays to out-of-area opponents. It has been a spectacular season for the Spartans, and they will be looking for three more wins at the state tournament. A key to West Springfield’s success this winter has been a team-first mentality.
“Everyone contributes, no one is selfish and we move the ball around,” said Robinson.