Vikings rest up for big test


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WOODBRIDGE — They’d just finished a two-hour practice and some members of the Woodbridge girls basketball team headed home for an afternoon nap.

The Vikings need their sleep. They’re making a very important trip to Franklin County tonight and energy is going to be a valuable ally.

“We just have to get a lot of rest,” senior forward Diana Martinez said.

Sophomore Anita Santiago agreed with that assessment. After helping decide which CDs the players should bring on the five-hour chartered bus ride, she thought it was a good time to curl up with a blanket.

By the time Santiago left the gym, only junior guard Jackie Dickriede and sophomore guard Tiffany Gaskins remained. They stayed behind to put the finishing touches on a handmade ‘Woodbridge’ sign.

“We’re taking it with us to Franklin County,” Dickriede said as she dipped a brush in black paint and drew a capital F in the upper left hand corner.

She had eight letters to go to spell out the Vikings’ motto — ‘Fear No One’ — while Gaskins diligently crafted an orange basketball in the other corner.

The Vikings would have preferred to hang their art work in their own gym, but things didn’t turn out that way. So while Forest Park hosts George Washington High School in the semifinals of the Northwest Region Tournament, Woodbridge is making its second postseason road trip in three days.

“There’s a little pressure, but it’s fun,” senior guard April Henderson said. “It’s more competitive this way.”

The Vikings have been in this position before. The path to the Group AAA state tournament went through Danville last winter. This time, they’ll be facing an excited Eagles squad that is participating in regionals for the first time in school history.

Henderson and her teammates know what’s at stake. They are also aware of Franklin County’s ability. They were in the stands at Potomac on Saturday night when the Eagles rallied to defeat the Panthers, 58-46.

“They hustle a lot and they’re scrappy,” Henderson said.

Both are attributes the Vikings understand and respect.

“We have to play hard, like every game is our last,” Martinez said. “It’s an adrenaline rush for me. We’ve been to states before and we’re trying to get back.”

A win tonight will accomplish that goal, but the Vikings realize they’ll have to earn it especially after learning Tuesday that defending state champion Princess Anne was upset by Western Branch in the Eastern Region Tournament.

“We’re not losing any more,” Henderson said.

At 21-6, the Vikings have more wins and more experience than the 11-10 Eagles, whose best player is freshman guard P.J. Wade. But Franklin County already has one huge postseason win at E.C. Glass. And, on Saturday the Eagles overcame the loss of Shaw University-bound forward Meme Tolliver to a leg injury in their victory over the Cedar Run District Panthers.

“We just can’t beat ourselves,” Martinez said.

Forest Park finds itself in a similar situation, though the Bruins (23-2) have the obvious advantage of playing at home. That certainly beats a long bus trip to Danville, especially with the regional finals scheduled for Thursday night.

At the request of the Eagles, tonight’s starting time was moved up one hour to 6 p.m. That’s just fine with the Bruins, who are eager to get back on the court following a 74-31 victory over Albemarle on Monday.

George Washington likely hasn’t faced a team with Forest Park’s depth or quickness this season. But, the Eagles (23-1) probably won’t be intimidated. They like to run, too, and they do it well.

With the exception of a loss to North Carolina’s top-ranked team, Durham-Hillside, and Saturday’s close call against Osbourn Park, the Eagles have controlled their own destiny. Their top three players each average double figures with Western Valley District player of the year Sierra Cooper leading the way at 16.5 ppg.

George Washington point guard Kurtise Wilkes averages 14 ppg., while forward Tavia Clemendor contributes 15 points and 10 rebounds and forward Tyisha Battle 10 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.

Forest Park isn’t used to giving up a lot of points. Led by junior guard Amanda Bates, the Bruins’ full-court press is one of the state’s best.

Woodbridge’s success tonight will also depend on its ability to press and create points in transition.

That will require contributions from at least 10 players, including freshman reserve center Ariene Jenkins and sophomore back-ups Chi Chi Ukoh and Gaskins who are playing in the postseason for the first time.

“They ask a lot of questions,” senior forward Faith Blackshear said. “We try to tell them what it’s like, but you really have to be in those games to feel it.”

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