Vienna Completing one of the best athletic seasons any Northern Region team has ever known, the Oakton High girls’ basketball squad put a final exclamation point on its 2011-12 winter season for the ages when it defeated state nemesis Princess Anne High of Virginia Beach, 58-39, in the Virginia State AAA Tournament championship game, which took place last Friday night at the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Siegel Center in Richmond.
It was the first state title for the Oakton girls, who have known tremendous success over the years under longtime head coach Fred Priester but had never before quite realized their dream of capturing a state championship. In recent years, the Cougars had reached the state finals (2008-09 season) and state semifinals (2009-10 season) before losing to Princess Anne (Eastern Region) on both occasions.
On Friday, Oakton, this year’s Concorde and Northern Region champions, was able to prevail over its state tournament rival and cap the season with a perfect 31-0 record.
“I think it will hit me on Monday when I go to school and don’t have a basketball practice that the season is over,” said Oakton senior guard Caroline Miller this past weekend. “It took a lot of hard work, determination, and focus for us to pull this off. In the regular season we were expected to win every game but in the playoffs it takes a lot more focus to win every game.”
Over the course of the postseason, Oakton was 9-0, winning a pair of games at districts, four straight at the 16-team region playoffs, and three at the eight-team state tournament. In postseason championship games over recent weeks, the Cougars were victorious over Chantilly High, 43-22 (Concorde District finals), defending region champion West Springfield High, 63-49 (region finals), and Princess Anne (state finals).
At the state tournament, the Cougars defeated strong opponents in both Monaca High (Richmond), 73-65 in the quarterfinals, on March 2 at Robinson Secondary, and Woodside High (Newport News), 46-43 in the semifinals, last Wednesday, March 7 at the Siegel Center to reach the finals game.
Oakton built leads of 14-5 after one quarter and 24-19 at halftime over Princess Anne before putting together a dominating second half in which the Cougars outscored the Cavaliers, 34-18, to clinch the win, complete a perfect season, and claim the state crown.
“I knew we had the ability to win by that much,” said Coyer, who added that Princess Anne, despite what the final score said, was a tough and talented opponent. “In the second half we were focused on our goal [of winning the state title]. We knew it was our last half of the season and we put it all out there.”
THE COYER TWINS, seniors Katherine and Caroline (7 rebounds), scored 24 and nine points, respectively. Inside the paint, junior center Elizabeth Manner contributed 13 points and pulled down a game-high 16 rebounds. Oakton junior frontcourt player Angela Sickels contributed nine points in the win and steady freshman guard Katie Cronin (4 rebounds) added four points.
Caroline Coyer, the Northern Region’s all-time scoring leader, was the focus of Princess Anne’s pressure defense over the first half. But as the game wore on, the seasoned backcourt star had more and more success making the Cavaliers’ pay by distributing the ball, especially to Katherine and post player Manner who both finished off Oakton possessions with baskets.
Oakton worked its way to the foul line 21 times, making 18 of its free throws to Princess Anne’s 10-of-15 conversions from the stripe. Katherine Coyer, the region tournament’s MVP two weeks ago, made 10 of her 11 shots from the foul line. Manner made five of her six.
“They were putting pressure on Caroline and she did a good job finding open players,” said Katherine Coyer. “Elizabeth Manner did a really good job one-on-one [down low] on the block and finishing off or getting fouled. Elizabeth rebounded really well for us in the playoffs and that was a really big thing for us because we’re not the biggest team.”
It was a glorious moment for Oakton players, coaches and fans when the final buzzer went off to end the state finals game.
“I remembered everything we’d been working for the last four years, all the hard work and emotions we’d gone through – it was all worth something,” said Katherine Coyer. “That’s why at the end of the game I was crying.”
Caroline Coyer said there was no extra incentive to defeat Princess Anne as a result of Oakton’s past state tournament losses to the Cavaliers two and three years ago.
“Those were great Oakton teams which had the ability to win [state titles],” said Coyer. “This was just our year. The fact that we were playing Princess Anne again didn’t really play into it although it was something that definitely stuck in your mind. It was kind of ironic [meeting them again], but not really a revenge thing.”
One Oakton incentive going into the game was to help coach Priester get a well-deserved state championship to his name.
“Going into the Princess Anne game I think that was one of the major reasons we wanted this win,” said Caroline Coyer. “He’s been doing this for so long and he’s a great coach and such a great guy. He’s not happy unless we’re playing our best.”
In the locker room following the state finals win, the Oakton players sang a song in celebration, something they had started doing several weeks ago. Also in the victorious locker room, the team’s seniors individually expressed things they were thankful for in regards to the season and their respective careers.
On the way back to Northern Virginia that night the Cougars had a celebratory dinner at an Applebee’s in Fredericksburg. It was not until around 1:45 a.m. that the team bus returned to Oakton.
Katherine Coyer said Oakton’s overall success this season was a total team effort.
“We all get along real well,” she said. “There was definitely a commitment we all made to each other. It was weird; there was zero drama on the team. Everyone was so unselfish. It’s amazing how much you can accomplish when no one cares who gets the credit. Every single day in practice we all worked hard. The girls who didn’t get as much playing time worked hard and pushed the starters. No one on the team felt they were better than anyone else.”