Seneca Valley High School girls’ basketball player Juanita Craig excelled after moving into the starting lineup a few games into her junior season, but something was still missing from her game.
“It’s kind of embarrassing,” the 5-foot-5 guard said. “It was hard for me to shoot [3-point shots].”
But not anymore.
After struggling from long range in her first three years of high school basketball, Craig has added a 3-point shot to her repertoire. And her newly discovered jumper has helped the Screaming Eagles to a 3-0 start.
“I’ve been working hard at doing what I do, and just playing smart and making sure I have a good shot,” Craig said.
Over the summer, the senior focused on improving her range by training with coaches and playing with her younger brother, William Craig. The extra time is paying off — Craig is averaging 20 points through three games this winter and shooting an impressive 9-of-16 from beyond the arc.
Craig scored 26 points and hit five 3-pointers in Seneca Valley’s 74-46 win over Quince Orchard in the season-opener earlier this month. In Seneca Valley’s 55-52 over Gaithersburg on Friday, she scored a game-high 23 points and converted three 3-pointers.
Craig’s long distance shooting is a welcome addition to the offense, said senior guard Erin Gary.
“It gives you confidence. If I have to drive and kick it out to her, the fact that she can shoot and make a three, that really helps,” Gary said.
Craig played for Quince Orchard as a freshman before transferring to Seneca Valley her sophomore year. She said she got a decent amount of playing time in her first season with the Screaming Eagles, but then saw a major boost in minutes last year when she became a starter.
“Really I just wanted to prove myself, why I should be able to start,” Craig said.
She did. The Screaming Eagles went 14-8 last season and have returned their entire starting lineup this season. The senior-laden team has developed chemistry and the players are familiar with each other’s playing styles, Craig said.
“I know who likes to drive, who likes to be down low, who is going to go up. ... We’re just jelling and we’re just going off of that,” Craig said.
Despite going through multiple coaching changes — Jennifer Hoffmann is Seneca Valley’s third coach in as many years — the players have a solid understanding of the system, Hoffmann said.
“They’ve got pretty good basketball IQs,” Hoffmann said. “That makes it easier on me.”
While Seneca Valley has benefitted from an improved offense, the defense has been on point too, said senior CeAyra Brown. The Screaming Eagles surrendered an average of 47 points through their first three games.
“If we can keep up our defense like it was, I really don’t think we have much that can stop us,” Brown said.
The team will rely on the Craig-Gary backcourt duo which will continue accounting for a significant portion of Seneca Valley’s scoring.
“The two of them together — it’s just awesome,” Hoffmann said. “They’re very good at being able to adapt quickly.”
The Screaming Eagles won their first and only state title in 2010 after a 27-0 season. Craig is hoping this team can earn the school a second championship.
“My goal is to be state champions. To be able to make my coach proud,” Craig said.