Portell born to be a point guard

WOODBRIDGE — It wasn’t destiny that led Kristin Portell to become an all-district point guard. Running the offense for Woodbridge’s girls basketball team the past four seasons turned out to be her birthright.

“The ball-handling, that’s a family inherited trait,” she said during a break from an end of the week practice session. “We’re all point guards.”

Three Portell sisters. Three point guards, each with an instinctive ability to break a press and make a precision bounce pass in transition.

They are natural gifts and Kristin has used hers well: leading the Vikings to one Cardinal District championship, three consecutive regional tournament berths and one appearance in the Group AAA state semifinals.

“She’s always had a lot of skill,” said Woodbridge guard Liana Wooten, a three-year basketball teammate and varsity soccer pal who has witnessed Portell’s development from frightened freshman to take-charge senior captain.

“We really need her on the floor as much as possible. She runs things. She sees the floor really well and she’s such a smart player. She knows exactly where to put the ball,” Wooten continued. “She makes it easy by putting it in our hands. All we have to do is finish.”

With Portell running the offense, the Vikings ran up a 61-20 record the past three seasons. They are 17-4 this winter and begin play in the Cardinal District Tournament Wednesday night with championship aspirations.

“We still have our goals in mind,” Portell said.

Since Portell arrived on the scene four years ago, Woodbridge’s main goal has always been the same. The Vikings want to win a state title.

They came excruciatingly close Kristin’s freshman season, when a 25-4 campaign ended with a 46-44 loss to Robinson in the state semifinals. Portell remembers how painful that defeat was for seniors Casey Godfrey, Orion Wake and Tamika Dudley.

She’d like nothing more than to pay those former teammates a tribute by winning it all in her final season.

“I got a taste of it as a freshman,” said Portell, who celebrated her 18th birthday on Sunday. “That year it didn’t end the way we wanted it to. I want to end it right this time.”

Regardless of how or when the season ends, Portell has done her part to maintain the family tradition. So has her freshman sister, Courtney, who has emerged as one of the area’s most gifted young players in her debut season at Forest Park — the team Woodbridge plays in the opening round of the district tournament.

Wednesday’s meeting at Forest Park will be the third between Kristin and Courtney at the varsity level. The Vikings won both regular season games — 50-42 on the road and 59-32 at home.

But the Bruins, behind 13 points from Courtney Portell, are coming off a huge upset victory over regular season champion Hylton. That triumph was Forest Park’s fourth of the season against a team with state tournament aspirations and it solidified Courtney’s arrival as a blossoming star.

“She wants to make a name for herself and I don’t think she’ll have any problem doing that,” Kristin said.

Courtney’s reputation, and perhaps her legacy, could be completely different from her older sisters. She is a shooter. Beth Portell, a 1995 Woodbridge graduate, was a passer.

As a varsity guard, Kristin has more in common with her older sister: she tends to pass first and shoot second, though she has evolved this season into a player capable of creating her own shot in addition to setting up leading scorers Wooten and center Kathy Clark.

“I was never really considered a threat before because I don’t score,” said Portell, whose running jumper in the lane and 3-point range have accounted for nearly 10 points per game.

“It’s my senior year and I wanted teams to worry about me,” she said. “If they worry about me and Kathy and Liana it opens up the court.”

The first hint that Kristin Portell would grow up to be one of the best playmakers in Woodbridge history came 16 years ago when she used to run up and down the sideline attempting to mimic Beth’s moves on the court.

“I started early,” Portell said laughing at the memory.

It wasn’t until Beth reached high school, however, that Kristin truly understood the thrills and pressure that come with leading a team.

When Beth ran the Vikings offense during the 1993-94 season, Woodbridge won 25 games and reached the state tournament semifinals losing to W.T. Woodson, 33-28. The next season the Vikings made it back to regionals and, by then, Kristin was hooked.

“That’s what really inspired me,” she said.

High school basketball, it should be noted, nearly took Portell in another, completely unexpected, direction.

When Kristin and Courtney first started attending Beth’s games, they were more excited about seeing the cheerleaders than the hoops stars. That, thankfully, turned out to be just a phase.

“When I went to my sister’s games, I loved watching the cheerleaders. They were so entertaining to me,” Portell said. “My mom was worried about that.

“She used to say, ‘would you rather cheer for others or have others cheer for you.’ She said we could do cheerleading, but we had to try basketball and soccer first.”

After one season of each, cheerleading was forgotten. She quickly became a star player in the county’s AAU basketball program and a starting defender in travel soccer leagues.

Portell, Wooten and senior Jennifer Woodie were each a part of the Vikings’ recent state championship soccer team and a couple of years ago, their current club team — the Sparklers — nearly won a national title. The medals they received for making it to the championship game remains her “biggest pride possession.”

That could change this winter if Woodbridge makes it back to the state basketball tournament. A victory in the championship game there would bring Portell’s career full circle and provide the happy ending she is hoping for.

Having already signed a letter of intent to play college soccer at George Mason, Portell knows there are a limited number of basketball games left to play. She wants to make the most of them.

That’s the way she’s approached every minute of court time since taking over the point guard position four years ago. Thrust into a leadership role after senior Sam Crane tore a knee ligament, Portell started all 29 games her freshman season and helped spark a fourth-quarter rally against Princess Anne in the state quarterfinals that led to a 63-58 win.

“As a freshman, with so many upperclassmen, it was hard as a point guard to go in and play. I was terrified when I started out, but I didn’t really have a choice,” she said. “I had to run a team that was state-bound whether I was ready or not. It took a while to get settled with myself and the team.”

Once Portell settled in, the Vikings kept right on winning. They went 18-8 in each of the next two seasons and are on pace for a 20-win campaign this winter. Still, there is work to be done.

“We look up at the wall and there’s only one district banner there, no regionals,” Portell said. “We’ve had some great teams here, but we don’t have much hardware to prove what we’ve done.

“I don’t want this season to end,” she continued. “I know I have soccer to look forward to, but I need something more. I’m not ready to give up basketball.”

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