She is delighted just to shoot jumpers by herself. But being a part of the Forest Park varsity team this season has been exhilarating beyond her wildest dreams.
“Whether I’m out on the court or cheering on my teammates from the bench, it’s so much fun,” she said.
For Braxton and the Bruins, basketball doesn’t get much more fun than it did on Monday night. After snow made them wait two extra days to play their first game in the Northwest Region Tournament, the Bruins couldn’t contain their enthusiasm. Freshman Monica Wright scored 14 points, sophomore Courtney Portell had 12 points and Braxton chipped in 7 points, 7 rebounds and 5 steals as Forest Park coasted to a 74-31 victory over Albemarle.
“Personally, I just wanted to play basketball,” Braxton said. “This season has been so enjoyable. Everybody supports each other.”
The Bruins are the epitome of solidarity. They hang out together, occasionally have team meals together and even go on scouting trips together, which is what they did on Saturday when Stafford hosted Albemarle in the Commonwealth District championship game.
“We took notebooks to the game and made our own scouting reports,” Portell explained. “We picked out their key players and studied the game to get familiar with the zone defense they played.”
When it came time for the Bruins to finally take the court, they were well prepared. They expected Patriots senior center Rachel Hanley (12 points) and junior forward Raven Trusclow (15 points) to handle the ball and they knew Albemarle would probably line up in some sort of zone defense.
“It was actually exciting to come up against someone new,” Portell said.
The Patriots (15-7) may not have felt the same way. Forest Park jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead and kept right on building to it. All 14 players eventually contributed with reserve guard Whitney French (11 points) dropping in three 3-pointers and guard DeCarol Davis grabbing 4 steals.
It didn’t seem to matter whether the Patriots used a 2-3 zone or a 3-2 version because the Bruins always seemed to find a path to the basket. Sometimes points came in the form of long-range jumpers — they connected on seven 3-pointers in all — but most of the baskets came on transition thanks to 18 steals.
“We certainly we didn’t see that in our district,” Albemarle coach Anita Jenkins said. “I don’t know how many she kept putting out there, but they’re all athletic.”
With their 23rd victory of the season, the 6th-ranked Bruins (23-2) advance to Wednesday’s semifinal round against George Washington High School. The Western Valley District champion Eagles (23-1) figure to pose a much greater challenge, which is why the Bruins are thrilled to be playing at home.
“Home court is a great advantage. It’s hard to travel and be on the bus for so long and have the mind set to play well,” Portell said.
Playing in the Commonwealth District, the Patriots are used to long trips. They play four times each season in Stafford County and once in Culpeper. Their first visit to Forest Park wasn’t one for the scrapbook.
Trusclow and Hanley produced virtually all of Albemarle’s offense, but the Patriots fell too far behind for either star to make an impact.
“We work really hard to stay disciplined and play as a team,” Braxton said. “I just knew we had to come out focused.”
The Bruins used a 23-6 second-quarter scoring run to put the game out of reach. With reserves Keisha Valentine, Demetria Haralson (6 points), French, Kianta Johnson, Keisha Gibbs, Carolyn Scott and Pashionete Gibbs playing long stretches in the second half, Forest Park still produced 17 points in the third period and led 58-19 heading into the final quarter.
“Once you get farther into the season you expect competition for each game so we play the same no matter what,” Portell said. “No matter who is on the court, our game never changes.”