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Region AA, Division 4 Girls Basketball: Courtland advances to state semifinals
BY JUSTIN RICE
RICHMOND—Janae McNeal’s wayward shot bounced high against the rim, and into the arms of Courtland teammate Anika Trent. Trent’s putback was off, too, but McNeal grabbed another offensive rebound.
Finally, McNeal ended the impromptu volleyball game and scored from close range for a game-sealing 55–41 fourth-quarter lead.
Even among Loudoun County’s towering front court, Courtland stood tall.
The Cougars pulled away from the Raiders, 58–44, on Saturday in the Group AA, Division 4 girls basketball quarterfinals at the Siegel Center, countering Loudoun’s inside edge with scrappy defense and a 13–2 third-quarter run that put Courtland in control.
The Cougars return to Richmond Wednesday for the school’s first-ever girls state semifinal game at 10:30 a.m. They’ll face Region 4 runner-up Salem, which beat Broadway in their quarterfinal Saturday in Harrisonburg.
To get to that semifinal matchup, Courtland had to first overcome the Raiders’ noticeable size advantage.
“Outside of our first game,” Courtland coach J. T. Nino said, “I don’t think we’ve played a girl over 6-foot. It was a great challenge defensively. We knew it was going to be a battle. We just made that run to give us a cushion.”
Janae McNeal’s steal and a layup by Arianna Bradley had tied the game, 26–26, at the end of the second quarter. The Raiders’ pair of 6–1 post players—Katrina Kirby and Casey Cummings—had 12 and 7 points, respectively, and Courtland (29–0) found itself in a dogfight perhaps, in a season full of blowouts, for the first time all season.
But the Cougars took control right away in the third period.
Jessica Hairston opened the quarter with back-to-back jumpers, McNeal scored twice off of turnovers, and Trent, a 5–8 forward, put back an offensive rebound from the middle of Loudoun County’s trees.
And just like that—by outscoring the Raiders 15–4 in the period—the Cougars had a firm grasp on the game. Courtland forced nine turnovers in the period, scoring six points off of them, and outscored the Raiders 8–4 in the paint.
“They did a nice job at the end of the first half of getting back in it and tying it up, and that set the tone for them,” Loudoun County coach Derek Fisher said. “[In] the third quarter they really hit their stride and we weren’t able to match them.”
The key may have been the defensive effort Courtland got from Trent, Jessica Hairston and Imani Fennell inside.
Kirby is a standout for Loudoun County’s four-time state-champion volleyball team. There’s not a single Cougar listed over 5–9.
Nino knew it could be a problem.
“Loudoun County matched up with us extremely well,” he said. “I knew we were going to have a hard time playing our game against them—especially defensively—because they have such athletic big girls.”
But Trent and Hairston led the way, fighting for every inch, trying to keep position in front of Kirby and Cummings.
“[Kirby] was taller and heavier,” Trent said. “We stressed it in practice this week. We had to front her. We had to focus on it. Front the post, and everything else would be easier.”
Kirby had just six points and three rebounds in the second half.
“[Anika] was battling,” Nino said. “I’m sure she’s got a lot of bumps and bruises to show for it.”
Loudoun 13 13 4 14 — 44
Courtland 15 11 15 17 — 58
Loudoun County (21–8): Casey Cummings 9, Katrina Kirby 18, Chloe Knox 2, Alex Lapple 5, Erica Linnemann 3, Kelly Maxey 0, Maggie Phillips 9, Taylor Tibbets 1. Totals: 16 9-10 47.
Courtland (27–0): Janae McNeal 23, Megan Amrhine 4, Arianna Bradley 5, Jessica Hairston 8, Anika Trent 11, Imani Fennell 7. Totals: 21 16-19 58.
Three-point goals: Loudoun County 3 (C. Cummings, A. Lapple, E. Linnemann). Courtland 0.
Justin Rice: 540/368-5045