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CLARKSBURG – The Clarksburg Lady Coyotes have one goal in mind this season: The Coyotes want to be the first varsity girls’ basketball team to hang a banner on the wall in Clarksburg High School’s gymnasium. Not just any banner, but one that reads “state champion.”
The 9-2 Coyotes are well on their way to their goal, showcasing their skills by blowing out most of their opponents. Their two losses, to Richard Montgomery and Sherwood, were decided by five points and two points, respectively.
In fact, that loss against Richard Montgomery is what propelled the Coyotes to a 64-44 win against the visiting Northwest Jaguars, a divisional foe, on Friday. Clarksburg Head Coach Sissy Natoli stresses the importance of a strong defense, and that focus was evident on the court against 4-5 Northwest. The Coyotes held the Jaguars to free throws and just one layup in the first quarter.
Whenever the Jaguars were on offense, the Clarksburg bench chanted “D – up,” a reminder that, as Natoli said, “Offense comes and goes, and defense always shows.”
“The chant was started by [point guard] Dominique Woods; she started it and we say it all the time. It definitely helps us get pumped up,” said Clarksburg senior forward Sienna Williams.
After a slow first quarter start, however, the Jaguars came back stronger in the second quarter and pulled the score to within seven points at halftime. Sophomore Ashley Mostrom rebounded her own missed shots and gave herself a second chance at two points. Mostrom also landed a three-point play, which further cut into Clarksburg’s lead shortly before the half.
The third quarter started in a similar manner as the first: the Coyotes tightened their defensive coverage and made sure the Jaguars had to fight for every bucket and had to reach for every completed pass. Northwest started to run into foul trouble; by the end of the game, two players had four fouls apiece, and a few others finished with three fouls.
“It’s just a lack of communication. The girls just have to learn how to play together and how to trust one another,” said Northwest Head Coach Kevin Smithson. “We’re trying to trust each other, but we’re still building on that. We’re going to build off this game and build off every game.”
An offensive lull by Clarksburg and a three pointer by Northwest senior guard Christina Photinakis pulled the Jaguars to within five points – the closest the Jags would get to overtaking Clarksburg’s lead.
Both squads increased their intensity in the fourth quarter, but another strong defensive performance by the Coyotes and several big plays by freshman guard Mia Smith (17 points) and sophomore guard Kaleah Boykin (eight points) kept the Jaguars from mounting a comeback.
“These guys had a great game in our last game against Richard Montgomery, and they took it away from us in the fourth quarter,” said Natoli. “They were fired up today to come out and play good basketball.”
For Williams, the pressure to win a state championship and mount that coveted banner on the wall is exacerbated by the fact that this is her final year to reach the pinnacle of high-school basketball.
“We’ve been trying to get a banner since I’ve been here. I think now we have the best chance with the best team that we’ve had here in a while,” said Williams. “We’re trying to get that banner for Clarksburg girls’ basketball.”
Smithson’s goals for his first year helming the Northwest varsity team are focused less on championships and more on learning life skills as well as basketball skills.
“I’m trying to change these girls’ mindsets into a winning mentality. I can’t stress it enough,” said Smithson. “And just let them carry something outside of school. It’s not even about just basketball. It’s about making them grow as young ladies and into women.”