Panthers inch closer to state

MANASSAS — The Potomac High School girls basketball team has very specific plans for this postseason and winning the inaugural Cedar Run District championship is only a small part of the scenario.

Way back in December, the Panthers began talking about qualifying for the Group AAA state tournament. They are almost there.

Four days after beating Stonewall Jackson in its regular season finale to wrap up a regional berth, Potomac set out on a quest for homecourt advantage and a No. 1 seed.

Facing off against a young, but athletic, Osbourn Park team in the district tournament opener, the Panthers showed off their backcourt depth and ability to improvise in a 54-31 victory.

“This is the first step toward what we want to accomplish,” Potomac coach Mike Adkins said, after his team withstood a third-quarter Yellow Jackets’ rally and improved to 17-5 overall.

Advancing to Friday’s championship game wasn’t as simple or as easy as the final score made it look. Sure, the Panthers leapt out to a 19-2 lead and were in command virtually the entire night. But they had to overcome a possible season-ending injury to center Erica Dabney and a gutsy performance from the last-place Yellow Jackets.

With Dabney out of action because of a fractured fibula in her left leg and forward Erika McDavid fighting through a 103-degree temperature, Potomac altered its game plan and finished OP off with a 22-point fourth period.

Adkins simplified things in the first quarter — pulling a four-year-old offense out of the playbook — and the Panthers operated most of the night out of the low post instead of the high post.

They also experimented with a five-guard lineup and Adkins liked the results so much that he may use it again.

“I was very pleased with the way my guards played,” he said.

Without Dabney is the middle, Potomac’s guards were required to do much more creating, shooting and rebounding. Sophomore Alexis Martin scored a game-high 13 points, sophomore Tiffany Jenkins finished with 11 and freshman Jameka Smith added seven points.

Another sophomore, reserve forward Nicole Carr, contributed eight points, while Rayna Henry had five.

McDavid, who felt she had to play because of Dabney’s injury, refused to use her illness as an excuse to sit out and came up with four points.

“I couldn’t get her off the floor,” Adkins said. “She threatened me with my life if I didn’t let her play. She played like a warrior.”

The Yellow Jackets also played with a warrior’s mentality, but they lacked the court experience to truly compete with Potomac and finished the season at 4-18.

Sophomore Erin Meyers and junior Kat Rippe, two of the area’s bright young talents, shared ballhandling responsibilities and scored seven points each for Osbourn Park.

It was Rippe’s third-quarter three-pointer that capped a 19-7 run and brought the Yellow Jackets within striking distance of an upset, but 26-21 was as close as the Panthers allowed OP to get.

“I felt the whole season if we clicked and understood what we were supposed to do, that athletically we could be dangerous,” Osbourn Park coach Larry Nemerow said.

The Yellow Jackets brought a lot of athletes to Osbourn for the tournament opener — 20 in all, including seven members of the junior varsity team that won its final 16 games and went undefeated against Prince William County competition.

The promise of tomorrow hung in the air throughout the night. Freshman center Jennifer DeMeyer, in just her second season playing organized basketball, scored five points in her fourth varsity appearance and sophomore Annie Suliga showed potential as a rebounding presence in the lane.

With nine sophomores and four freshman on the floor at one point or another, the Yellow Jackets’ focus was clearly on the future. Midway through the first period, OP sent freshmen Erica Beckett, Kelly McConnell and DeMeyer onto the floor along with sophomores Reba Stewart and Suliga.

The Yellow Jackets’ youth was no match for Potomac’s experience, but there were enough bright moments for them to believe that victories will come soon enough.

“This year, we got a little better skillwise, but we’re still learning how to play teamwise,” Nemerow said. “We had to reteach a lot of things this year. We had to take a step backward before we could go forward, but some of our kids made tremendous progress.”

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