Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008

After 0-3 start, Coyotes finally turning the corner

Clarksburg 46, Watkins Mill 33

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Year 2 of the Clarksburg girls varsity basketball team looks to finally be developing. After an 0-3 start, the Coyotes were stuck with being temporarily labeled as a young team that still needed to mature.

But they’re not making those excuses anymore, because after winning four out of their last five, there’s no need to. The Coyotes are playing their most inspired ball in their brief history, and their 46-33 victory over Watkins Mill last Thursday evened their record at 4-4.

‘‘It’s definitely the best we’ve played so far, though I think we’re still capable of much, much more,” said Clarksburg head coach Sissy Natoli. ‘‘Last year, because everything was so new, it easy to put blame elsewhere, but this year, we’re starting to take more ownership. There’s still a ways to go, but it’s nice that they’re starting to take more responsibility.”

Natoli must also like the looks of her rapidly improving offense. The key to it all is sophomore center Nicole Cunningham, a versatile post-presence also capable of putting the ball on the deck. She’s the rock inside, and the one player who can be counted on to put up big numbers every night. For the season, she’s averaging over 15 points per game, and also leads the team in rebounding.

But other players are starting to step up as well. Junior Turquoia Johnson is starting to come alive, and had her best game of the season against the Wolverines with a team-high 15 points. Her sophomore sister Tia, the team’s co-leading scorer a year ago, has also hit for double-digits this season.

However, just because they’re playing their best ball does not guarantee the wins will keep coming. This week is a tough one for the Coyotes, with match-ups against Poolesville (6-1) and Damascus (6-2). And there are still plenty of improvements to be made, such as cutting down on their 19 turnovers per game

‘‘It’s our true test,” said Natoli. ‘‘Hopefully we have a good showing this week, because these are good teams and we won’t be able to turn the ball over like we have and win. But the beauty of our season is you’ve got 20 games to figure it all out.”