Vikings qualify for regionals

WOODBRIDGE — It occurred to Woodbridge girls basketball coach George Washington just minutes after a 72-38 Cardinal District Tournament victory over Forest Park Wednesday night that the Vikings still haven’t reached their full potential.

That is a frightening thought.

A regional-bound ballclub with the scoring options and pressing defense the Vikings have at their disposal presents plenty of problems for opposing teams. Imagine what is possible when they finally peak.

On a night when the Vikings had to find a way to execute without senior point guard Kristin Portell on the court, they delivered one of their most inspired performances of the year to qualify for the Northwest Region Tournament.

Portell, the playmaker, decision maker and emotional floor captain Woodbridge has relied on for four seasons, spent much of the evening in foul trouble. She barely got a chance to match up against freshman sister Courtney and had to settle for the pleasure of watching her teammates from a chair on the Vikings bench.

It was an enjoyable view, especially when senior guard Liana Wooten had the ball. Wooten, the team’s scoring leader, hit five three-pointers en route to a team-high 19 points and Woodbridge easily advanced to Saturday’s championship game against top-seeded Hylton.

Wooten, whose 15.0 average is second only to Hylton’s Jasmine Byrd in the Cardinal District, was one of four Vikings in double figures on Wednesday. Junior forward Diana Martinez executed a new back-door play to near perfection and finished with 14 points. Senior center Kathy Clark had 13 points and eight rebounds, while junior reserve forward Whitney Allen added 13 points and six rebounds.

“If Liana is on and Kathy does what she’s supposed to do inside, we’re tough to beat,” Washington said. “But we’ve yet to have a game where everybody’s on.”

Foul trouble and injuries prevented the perfect game on Wednesday, but the Vikings were certainly close.

Senior guard Jennifer Woodie, one of the team’s best defenders, didn’t play at all because of illness and guard April Henderson was bothered by a sore ankle. Henderson still dished out four assists and even though she didn’t score, Portell played long enough to contribute five rebounds and three assists.

Senior Antwanette Daniels hit a pair of first-half three-pointers to help Woodbridge build a 35-15 lead. The Vikings then showed off their depth with Kate Lancaster, Jordan Parsels, Faith Blackshear and Elizabeth Murphy enjoying extended stretches of action.

“We have a lot of threats. So many people can score,” Wooten said. “We tried a lot of different options to make sure we looked at everybody.”

As has been the case most of the winter, Wooten was the primary option against Forest Park. Her hot hand early on forced the Bruins to extend their defense beyond the foul line and created additional room for Woodbridge’s front court players to roam underneath.

That made the Vikings’ popular high post offense even more effective because Martinez and Allen were able to angle behind the defense and take skip passes across the lane in stride for easy layups.

“It was there. That’s what you do if you’re pressured. You go back door and the passes were there,” said Washington, who received a congratulatory kiss on the cheek from Potomac coach Mike Adkins, a former Woodbridge assistant whose team will play for the Cedar Run District championship Friday night.

“Whitney’s tough,” Washington said. “She’s as athletic as anybody. So is Diana. They are the ones that open it up inside for Kathy.”

The Bruins had no choice but to abandon any thoughts of double teaming Clark. After scoring just one basket in the first half, she dropped in 11 points in the final 16 minutes as Woodbridge sprinted to a 52-17 advantage midway through the third quarter.

Washington had been somewhat apprehensive about facing the Bruins on their home court, but those fears diminished quickly. With a loss meaning an end to their season, the Vikings hit four quick three-pointers, opened up a 23-8 lead and never let Forest Park back in the game.

“We tend to play better when something’s at stake,” Wooten said. “We knew this could have been our last game.”

The Bruins knew the same thing. They were hoping to extend their season past the opening round of the district tournament, but were content with a 11-11 record and three inspirational victories over Oakton, Potomac and Hylton.

“We had some really incredible wins this year,” Forest Park coach Chrissy Kelly said. “I have a special group of girls. They work so hard and have so much desire. The hardest part of the season ending is not seeing them every day.”

No amount of hard work or hustle from the youth-laden Bruins could overcome the much more experienced Vikings. It was apparent, however, that their time is coming.

Guard Courtney Portell, who is already drawing comparisons to her older sister, and sophomore DeCarol Davis, who plays much bigger than her 5-foot-6 frame, showed poise and talent well beyond their experience level.

DeCarol scored a team-high 19 points and Portell finished with 11 — her seventh double figure performance in the past nine games. Together, they produced all but eight of Forest Park’s points.

While the Bruins glowed over the possibility of their future, the Vikings climbed into the bleachers to watch Hylton play Gar-Field and focused on the present.

“Knowing that we’re in the region is a huge relief,” Clark said. “But we want to go in as a number one seed.”

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