The Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School girls’ basketball team, champions of the Potomac Valley Athletic Conference, is powered by its defense. The unit doesn’t just pressure opposing ball-handlers; it smothers them, relentlessly swarming the ball until a turnover is forced or a shot is attempted.

At the heart of this stingy defense is Daphne Lerner, who at 5-foot-1, is almost always the shortest player on the court. But using her quickness and speed, the sophomore comes away with steal after steal and regularly sprints her way to 20-point games.

“It’s just crazy watching her play, because she doesn’t stop,” coach Rebecca Silberman said.

Lerner led all PVAC scorers with 18.4 points per game and though the team doesn’t track steals, Silberman guessed the sophomore averaged more than six. The pesky guard was a key component of the half-court, three-two zone press that led the Lions to a 16-1 season. Most of her points came off fast-breaks and broken plays — Silberman prefers it that way.

“Honestly, my favorite is when we don’t even run an offense,” Silberman said.

Silberman, a first-year coach, introduced the half-court press this season, a change of pace from last year’s full-court press. Though there was a learning curve, the defense improved as the season progressed and it clicked during Jewish Day’s season-ending 14-game win streak.

At just over five feet tall, Lerner doesn’t see her short stature as a disadvantage.

“I think that there is actually a lot of good things about it. Nobody expects you to be able to steal the ball or shoot or anything,” Lerner said. “… I don’t like to let my height bring me down.”

The press was on full display in Saturday’s title game against Covenant Life School, where the Lions forced 21 turnovers in a 50-28 victory.

Lerner scored a game-high 27 points, recording 10 points and three steals in a first quarter where Jewish Day shut out Covenant Life 21-0.

The defense requires a team effort, Lerner said.

“We’re really fast,” Lerner said. “We can anticipate their passes really easily. Our speed helps us trap them faster, which is good.”

Lerner made Jewish Day’s varsity team as a freshman, and though she didn’t play with as much consistency, she still scored about nine points a game.

“As soon as you play with her, she immediately stands out,” teammate Yaira Kalender said.

This season Lerner has improved her skills while benefitting from the added year of experience and the new coach. She has reaced double figures in all but one game, when she scored nine against Edmund Burke. In January, she registered a season-high 30 points in a 57-47 win over Washington Christian.

“She came in this year ready and realized that she could do it all,” Silberman said.

The Lions expect their sophomore star to continue improving as they begin their quest for another PVAC title.

“I don’t see why there would be a limit on her,” Kalender said. “We’ve seen the progress from middle school to freshman year, and last year to this year. She definitely has the athleticism and speed that can’t be matched. She’s only just improving her game.”