This isn’t the same Walter Johnson High School girls’ basketball team that went 18-6 last season, winning a share of the Montgomery 4A South Division and advancing to the Class 4A West Region semifinal game. Six seniors graduated — including top post player Kristen Larrick — leaving less experienced, undersized backups in their place.
So this season, the Wildcats took on a new identity. Instead of running the offense through the 6-foot-2 center, they started working through the guards. Instead of depending on a dominant scorer, they have about five consistent scorers. They aren’t hiding their size, but they’re embracing it with an up-tempo pace.
The results haven’t quite matched last season’s, but the Wildcats (9-8 overall, 3-4 as of Monday) have remained one of the better teams in the county and sit in third place in the 4A South in spite of the revamped lineup.
“They play hard and they don’t give up, and when it comes down to it, that’s the kind of team I want to have,” Wildcats coach Lindsey Zegowitz said.
None of the Walter Johnson players average double figures in scoring; Erica Boyd, a junior point guard, averages a team-high 8.1 points and senior guard Melanie Ackerman averages 7.6, while Jilly Mahoney (6.2), Maggie Howie (5.6) and Samantha Lee (5.3) round out the top-five scorers.
But the balance can be an advantage, Zegowitz said.
“We needed some new people to step up into a scoring position. The girls are doing well,” Zegowitz said. “... A lot of girls are stepping up and they’ve been doing it on different nights.”
Walter Johnson is playing at a faster pace, and though taller and more physical teams create matchup problems, the Wildcats use their quickness to overcome the height disadvantage.
“We had to focus more on bringing up the tempo of our offense,” Ackerman said. “And our passing is a lot quicker this year, because there’s not a lot of feeding into the post.”
Ackerman, a 5-8 guard, has been one beneficiary of the team’s makeover, particularly in recent weeks. The second-year starter is averaging 12 points in her last six games.
“We have to move the ball around quicker and try to make shots from driving and kicking,” said Ackerman, who has a team-high 27 3-pointers. “... Practices are a lot more challenging this year since we’re all fast.”
Boyd, 5-4, is also playing well as of late. She had 19 points in a Jan. 24 win against Richard Montgomery, combining with Ackerman (22) to score 41 of the team’s 53 points.
The Wildcats have played their share of close games this season, including a three-point win against Thomas S. Wootton, a six-point loss to Gaithersburg, and overtime games against Richard Montgomery (44-42, W), Seneca Valley (45-39, W) and Winston Churchill (49-47, L). To advance in the playoffs, the team will have to close out those games with consistency.
“I think we could go far,” Boyd said... “We just have to work really hard, take every game as one and just focus on that.”