Woodbridge takes another shot at No. 1


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WOODBRIDGE — Wednesday was picture day at Woodbridge High School and the pressing issue for Candace Jackson, Elizabeth Murphy, Jackie Dickriede and Jordan Parsels was how to squeeze four players into one camera frame.

Lying side by side on the concrete floor wasn’t working out, so the Vikings sought another option.

“You can do a Charlie’s Angels pose,” sophomore Anita Santiago offered in the way of support as Dickriede went into action figure mode.

Her teammates got a chuckle out of that one.

Of course, when you’re 16-3, even ordinary tasks like posing for group photos turn out to be fun. In fact, the Vikings were surprisingly peppy for a squad that’s about to play its biggest game of the regular season.

If Woodbridge is feeling any pressure about hosting the state’s top-ranked Group AAA girls basketball team tonight it doesn’t show. The 10th-ranked Vikings are clearly comfortable with the spotlight — and they’d like to stay there.

“We need to play well enough to show that we still belong,” Woodbridge coach George Washington said. “This IS a big game.”

It’s a big game for undefeated Forest Park, too. With a win, the 18-0 Bruins can essentially lock up the first Cardinal District regular season championship in the program’s three-year history. Not to mention a berth in the Northwest Region Tournament.

They already have one huge triumph over Woodbridge on their side — a 35-30 decision on Jan. 10 — and Friday is the Bruins’ opportunity to confirm their reputation as the area’s best team.

There’s a lot on the line, but Forest Park head coach Chrissy Kelly is taking a decidedly low-key approach.

“People can put as much weight as they want on it, but we’re going to treat it like every other game,” she said. “There’s no point in putting everything on one single game.”

That’s not a bad thing. The Bruins have fared pretty well with their take-it-one-game-at-a-time approach. They consider themselves a family and take a lot of pride in doing things together. That is especially true on defense.

At Forest Park, taking a charge is as meaningful as turning a steal into a breakaway layup.

“They have fun with it,” Kelly said. “We are truly a family and families love to see each other succeed. A lot of what they do has to do with me, but it also has a lot to do with them. They spent a great deal of the offseason doing the things necessary to get to the next level.”

That dedication has enabled Forest Park to overcome a pair of injuries that might have crippled other teams. The Bruins found out this week that they’ll play the remainder of the season without guard Keisha Valentine, who tore the meniscus in her right knee, and sophomore point guard Courtney Portell has been bothered by a chronic back injury.

Whitney French’s rapid-fire perimeter game, Amanda Bates’ defense and outstanding play of freshmen Monica Wright and Ashleigh Braxton helped maintain the status quo. When Portell returns to the lineup on Friday, the Bruins will still be the area’s top scoring team — averaging 62.7 points per game.

“Every game is a big game, whether it’s a district game or not, in the sense that you want to play well,” Kelly said. “We expected to win last year too, it just didn’t happen as often. We’ve improved to the point where we’re playing with more consistency.”

Consistency has also been the Vikings’ calling card. They’ve won six straight since falling to Forest Park, including a 13-point victory over Hylton, and are in a position now to claim a share of first place.

Seniors Whitney Allen, Diana Martinez and April Henderson spurred the resurgence. Allen, who has signed with George Washington University, scored a career-high 35 points in an 86-26 win over Osbourn. Since the Bruins held her to a season-low four points, Allen has 104 points in six games.

Martinez, who is being courted by a handful of Division I programs like UMBC and Robert Morris, scored 20 points in last week’s victory over Potomac, while Henderson dropped in a season-high 19 in a 67-34 win over Stonewall Jackson.

The Vikings are averaging 55.8 points per game, but accomplishing that against the Bruins’ full-court pressure isn’t a simple process. In the first meeting between the two rivals last month, Woodbridge had more turnovers than total points.

“We threw the ball away 34 times,” Washington said. “Our execution was horrible, but they earned it. They played well enough to win. They went around picks and didn’t allow themselves to get screened.

“Everybody has their big game against us,” he continued. “To me, this is an important game because it says whether we get to play them again [in a playback].”

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