The Gaithersburg High School girls basketball team can set a state record for consecutive wins with three straight victories to open the 2012-13 season.
But a quick start will do more than put the Trojans in the record books, junior forward Janessa Fauntroy said.
Gaithersburg, which has won 52 consecutive games en route to two straight 4A state titles, is well aware of the key players it has graduated the past two years. It knows the target on its back has grown even bigger after its second consecutive undefeated campaign and that teams throughout the state are eager to be the first to snap its remarkable run entering Thursday's season-opener against Montgomery Blair at home.
"There's kind of a changing of the guard this year. I think Gaithersburg is still the favorite, but point guard and center are two of the hardest positions [to replace] and those were two of their top players," 11th-year Walt Whitman coach Pete Kenah said.A good start to the season, which won't be easy considering the Trojans' first three opponents are Blair, Poolesville and Winston Churchill, should give a young Gaithersburg team confidence in its ability to build upon the winning tradition the program has cultivated in recent history.
“We all know that we have a huge target on our back and that every team wants us to lose. But we know that we determine how everyone thinks of us,” Fauntroy said.
The Trojans' (27-0 record in 2011-12) dynamic certainly will be different this year. There is no more Jackie Jackson to dominate the lane with 28 points and 15 rebounds and no more inside-out threat with Colleen Marshall to add seven assists, seven rebounds and 18 points.
But although opponents might view this as a window of opportunity to strike Gaithersburg while it is seemingly down, the Trojans have a different perspective.
“Believe it or not, I think that's a strength of this team — the fact that we are very young and inexperienced. We know we have to step up because no one else is going to do it for us,” Fauntroy said. “It brings drive to what we need to do. Eighty percent of basketball is who wants it more.”
Fauntroy is one of two returning starters, the other being Deja Rollins. They might not have the same name recognition as players like Marshall and Jackson, but they will, Trojans coach Adrian McDaniel said.
The two were major contributors last year — Fauntroy averaged 10 points and seven rebounds per game and Rollins had eight points and six steals.
Fauntroy will take over as the Trojans' primary scorer under the basket. She is strong on the boards, McDaniel said, fast and physical. Rollins brings leadership, speed and a great overall basketball intelligence to the court, he added.
“We told the girls, everyone is aiming for us because we had two Division I [college] players go, and they were key players. But it takes five to win a game and we have two players coming back that helped us a lot last year,” McDaniel said.
Also returning are Danielle Rojas, Briana Jones and Christine Mabry, who scored seven points in Gaithersburg's state semifinal win against Baltimore's Polytechnic last March.
They are joined by two talented transfers: junior guard Daja Hillard (Our Lady of Good Counsel) and classmate Stephanie Pantos (Boonsboro).
New names might top the leaderboard for Gaithersburg this winter, but its style won't change a bit, McDaniel said.
The traditional team speed is there along with the high-pressure defense and transition buckets.
The Trojans might not have one particular star player but each player knows her role, Fauntroy said. And those responsibilities join forces quite effectively, she added.
“It's definitely a different team but the same attitude. We tell them, 'This is your team. Jackie is gone. Colleen is gone. Kara is gone. Everyone needs to know about you. You've got a big bull's eye on your back. Make your own name,'” McDaniel said. “Everyone thinks we're down, but I think we're going to be pretty good.”