Sophomore guards Melanie George (left) and Sam McNaughton comprise one of the area's best backcourts.

2017-2018 Patriot District Girls Preview

There’s a ton of young talent in the new-look Patriot District, but are the teams here physically strong and experienced enough to make noise at regionals? Only time will tell, but the programs in the district certainly seem to be in great shape long-term with the considerable amount of youthful skill throughout, especially at guard.

If we’re talking youthful skill at guard, there’s no better place than to start with the Fairfax Rebels. Sophomores Melanie George and Sam McNaughton already comprise one of the region’s best backcourts, and they will continue to only get better playing together. The pair can do it all: defend, rebound, shoot and drive.

They really will have to do it all this year. Last year the pair averaged 18 a game and they may need to almost double that output this year. That’s because the Rebels lost a strong senior class led by Kara Murphree and Dominique Webster. This year’s roster has only one senior, so coach Pat Deegan is going to need to see some of his youthful talent other than George and McNaughton come through.

The lone senior, guard Emma Haslep, is a crucial stabilizing force. Junior small forward Nia Stanford is going to have to step up on the boards especially if the smallish-Rebels are to realize their potential. There’s other talent around–it’s just relatively inexperienced and has to learn to play at the pace and level Deegan expects.

The wild card is tall junior guard Ally Johnson. Her length and shooting ability is huge for the Rebels, but her season may be in question due to shoulder troubles. We hope she is able to play sooner than later not just for the Rebels’ sake, but because we admire her game. Stay tuned.

The perpetually young Robinson Rams were poised for a big season this year as they were to return their top seven scorers. But they were dealt a blow when Kamryn Meador and Jalyn Scales departed for Freedom-South Riding. There’s still a lot for coach T.J. Dade to be excited about, though.

Junior guard and leading scorer Joelle Hugney returns. She’s very talented and now has the experience and physicality to up her game to the next level. Sophomore guard Bella Edwards has good height for her position and is far more prepared this year after being thrust into the action as a freshman. She’s capable of big games already, pouring in 17 against Oakton and 16 against Stone Bridge in mid-season contests last year. The Rams will now need her to do that more often.

Senior Allison Gressett (5.0 ppg) also returns to provide leadership and other intangibles. With Meador and Scales gone Dade will once again have to employ some help from freshmen. He’s got another good class with five of them on the varsity. The Rams hope frosh Veronica Bubak can help holdovers Madeline Downey and Kaitlin Leigh in the post and Abigail Krug, Tate Lewis, Livvy Edwards and Andrea McBride can provide depth, energy and occasional scoring punch.

The W.T. Woodson Cavaliers continue to progress in coach Aseem Rastogi’s third year. They also remain young, but retain six of their top seven scorers from last year’s team that finished fourth in the old district. Rastogi is excited third-year and juniors Natasha Pacheco and Rachel Shurberg are ready to take off after combining for about 15 points a game last year. Sophomore Abby Pesansky (5.9 ppg) also returns to provide strength in the post and could become a double-double threat consistently in the near future.

Others return but another player Rastogi is high on is sophomore Maggie McGuire. He says McGuire has lived in the gym this off-season and grown to around six feet tall. She can shoot the three, run the floor and post up, and if she can develop consistency this season the Cavaliers could push for the district crown come playoff time.

The team and program remain young, however, so consistent success is certainly not a given this year. But the future looks promising.

“The kids and I are really excited,” Rastogi says. “We had a really good Spring, Summer and Fall where the kids got after it. We’re still young in terms of varsity experience but the players are developing their skill sets…the improvement should start to really show now. Some players have been in the program three years and that’s key.”

Abigail Pesansky prepares to drive to the basket. Pesansky led all scorers with 14 points.
Post player Abigail Pesansky drives against South County last year. She is capable of big games in the smallish-Patriot.

The South County Stallions were and continue to be a young team like the Cavaliers. They finished just behind Woodson last year in the standings but also return most of their team.

“The new district is giving us a fresh start,” coach Patrick Noel told us. “Last year we definitely under-achieved but I think we’re more battle-tested now. I think the district is wide open so I’m telling our kids, ‘why not us’?”

Talented sophomore Gabbi San Diego returns after averaging double figures in her initial varsity campaign. The small guard is smart and demonstrated remarkable maturity running the offense last year while still providing scoring punch. Junior guard Niya Liriano (5.0 ppg) and senior guard Andrea Gamble (4.5 ppg) also return. They give Noel multiple options to bring the ball quickly up the floor and provide depth around and behind San Diego.
Note: Both opted not to play this year.

Noel wants to play faster this year and believes he has the weapons to do it. He likes what he’s seen from young holdovers Keagan Schwab and Maya Taylor. Schwab can get hot from three-point range and the sophomore Taylor is long and athletic and could be a breakout candidate.

The physical growth of the returnees is important as the Stallions will be without athletic forward Nelliah WIlson (9.0 ppg) until likely after Christmas. She tore her ACL toward the end of last season but when healthy is relentless inside and on the boards. Even with her, Noel’s guards are going to have to all hit the boards if South County is to play the up-tempo style Noel would like to.

Don’t be surprised if the West Springfield Spartans rebound after a 7-14 season to win the district. They lose senior Emma Sharman to graduation but retain junior sister Molly who led the team in scoring as a sophomore. She’s a solid, smart player who is fundamentally about as good as they come.

Senior Seana Ellsworth, junior Alyssa Morroni and senior Christine Meiller are solid rotation players from a year ago who figure to step up and supplement Sharman a little more this year. But the kids to watch are freshmen Madeline Grieve and Alexis White. Both are already battle-tested through AAU and figure to help Billy Gibson’s squad immediately.

The Lake Braddock Bruins can be a factor if their generally unproven backcourt can take care of the ball. That’s because they have several nice frontcourt pieces returning. Junior Alaina Park (7.1 ppg) and senior Devin Sheridan (5.7 ppg) are forwards that can do some damage inside, while senior Sydney Miller (4.3 ppg) is a wing that can shoot. Those three can do damage if they get the ball within the flow of the offense.

The key for the Bruins will be keeping the pace of the game manageable and defeating full and half-court pressure. The mostly guard-oriented Patriot District could prove either a blessing or a curse for Lake Braddock.

–Chris Jollay

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