In its drive toward the program’s first state title in more than a generation, the Madison girls basketball players spent a great deal of time the past week preparing by looking in their rear view mirror. After all, this time a year ago, the Warhawks were speeding along into the Class 6 quarterfinal round before their season of great promise crashed with a loss to T.C. Williams.
For a group of girls who have won an astounding 44 of their past 46 games over two seasons, Friday’s quarterfinal against West Springfield figured to be inspiration enough for Madison to travel further in the postseason than in 2019. Instead, the Warhawks spent their preparation week looking backward, focusing mostly of their most recent game — a 37-35 defeat to Marshall last Friday in the Region 6D final.
Lessons learned from that game, especially in regard to fundamentals, steered the team to a 46-39 victory over the Spartans at Robinson. Madison (27-1) now travels toward Richmond where it will take on James River-Midlothian in a semifinal on Tuesday.
Warhawks’ sophomore guard Grace Arnolie scored 19 points Friday and played a nearly flawless game at both ends of the court, showing off her sound fundamental game with outside shooting, productive drives to the basket, rebounding and fierce defense (four steals). Senior Tedi Makrigiorgos added 13 points as the only other Warhawk in double figures.
“We worked all week on the little things,” Arnolie said. “[Against Marshall] we didn’t do the things that got us this far: help defense, boxing out and playing our game.”
Teammate sophomore Kiera Kohler, added, “We didn’t do a good job playing together as a team against Marshall. [Improving on that] was definitely a motivation for us against West Springfield. It was in the back of our minds tonight.”
That last-second loss to the Statesmen (who were defeated in overtime by Edison in their state quarterfinal) has been the only wrong turn in what otherwise has been an astounding run of success for Madison. The Spartans (22-6) and their top-rated 6C Region defense, figured to provide a stiff test. West Springfield entered the contest on a nine-game winning streak. The Spartans played Madison as close as any team during the regular season this year, falling 47-44 in December. Then, Spartans’ post McKenzie Matheny scored 24 points and had 18 rebounds, but West Springfield was sunk by poor free-throw shooting (10 for 21) and 21 turnovers.
Matheny, however, suffered an MCL and bone bruise to her right knee on Feb. 26 in the region semifinals and hadn’t played since. Friday, she clearly was not a full strength. She played about three-quarters’ worth of Friday’s game, subbing in and out after playing in five or six-minute (game time) segments. Kohler, Arnolie and others were tasked with slowing the 5-foot-10 Matheny.
Matheny had five of her first nine shots blocked (several by Kohler) and scored only four points while her team fell behind, 22-17. Some observers suggested that she wasn’t getting the typical amount of lift off the floor while shooting in the lane or the perimeter. Matheny finished with 13 points and stopped short of saying her injury was a big factor.
“I wasn’t able to cut as much as I would have liked,” she said. “We didn’t close out well enough on their shooters,” she said was the key to the game.
Teammate junior Lexi White picked up the scoring slack, finishing with 20 points and her team’s only two three-pointers. White was the most active Spartan throughout the game, mostly working toward the basket. Early in the second half, she scored four points in less than five seconds (a basket, stolen inbound pass, and another basket) to pull her team to within 25-21 with 6:43 left in the third. But Madison countered with a 7-0 run. West Springfield was never closer than six during the fourth quarter, except for a last-second three-pointer that accounted for the final score.
“[McKenzie] was hurting for sure,” Madison coach Kirsten Stone said afterward. “But she’s tough. She’s a great player. We prepared in practice for her to play. We have experience defending teams with strong post players, having faced Oakton and their bigs three times.”
Looking ahead: Region A champion James River-Midlothian (24-2) is 15 miles west of Richmond. It won its quarterfinal 53-39 over Osbourn Park in a game at Cosby High in Midlothian, a probable venue for Tuesday’s semifinal. In December, James River defeated West Springfield, 42-30. The Rapids’ two losses this season were each by double-digits to Norview and Monacan. Madison last played in the state semifinals in 2015, losing to Cosby.