Article by Jon Roetman; photos by Sebastian Montes
Trailing Damascus by 10 midway the third quarter on Dec. 21, Watkins Mill guard Dominique Walker attacked the rim, slashed between two defenders and converted an emphatic fast-break basket.
“Did you see that?” Coach Ivan Hicks exclaimed to his bench. “Holy moly.”
Minutes later, the 5’10” freshman pressed the issue again, swiping a steal in the backcourt and taking it all the way to the hoop to cap an 8-0 run that cut Damascus’ lead to 28-24—the slimmest it had been since late in the second quarter.
Walker’s sudden outburst had come in stark contrast to the Lady ‘Rines early season offensive struggles that had seen them unable to score more than 14 points in the first half of five of their six games.
Damascus went on to pull away in the fourth quarter for a 44-31 win that handed Watkins Mill their fourth straight loss.
Mbouma, the team’s leading scorer through its first six games, had 8 points against Damascus. Johnson finished with 3 and Charmaine Nganje added 2.
Adding to their lack of experience, the Lady ‘Rines faced a distinct size deficit against Damascus—four Hornets top the 6-foot mark. Watkins Mill battled hard to keep the game close for three quarters. Damascus led 19-13 at halftime and opened a 12-point lead with 4:21 remaining in the third quarter before Watkins Mill's 8-0 run cut the lead to four. Damascus pulled away in the fourth quarter, leading by as many as 15 as Becky Barrett, Kelli Prange and Kristina Prange proved too much inside and beyond the arc.
“Our mission was to be competitive and keep it close and have a chance at the end to win,” Hicks said. “For the most part, we kept it close the entire game, but late in the game their bigs took over.”
Hicks wants to see more direct—and decisive—playmaking as the team settles into its midseason swing after the holiday break. The Lady 'Rines play their holiday tournament Dec. 27 at Don Bosco Christo Rey High School in Takoma Park. Regular season games resume on the road against Einstein on Jan. 3 followed by a Jan. 6 home match-up with Rockville.
The lesson for his young players: Be aggressive.
“One of the girls prior to her doing that said, ‘Pass,’” Hicks said after the game. “I gave the instructions at halftime: ‘No, drive to the hole.’”
Walker and Danielle Durjan, the other member of his freshman starting backcourt, have been the primary focus of Hick’s preaching as he tries to convince the duo they belong at the varsity level.
Walker finished with a team-high 12 points against Damascus, her highest output since her 17-point outburst against Richard Montgomery on Dec. 9. But she has averaged only 3 points per game in her other four contests.
Durjan knocked down a pair of three-pointers and finished with six points. Her second triple snapped a 10-0 Damascus run, pulling the Wolverines within 11 at 38-27 with 5:12 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The 5’8” guard has a feathery touch and quick release from behind the arc, but at times has been reluctant to pull the trigger. She knocked down a pair of triples in the season opener against Paint Branch but had only two more in the four games prior to Damascus.
“I’ve been nervous a couple of times, gotten the little butterflies,” Durjan said of being a freshman at the varsity level. “It’s very exciting. I hope to continue to get better, work on my [ball-handling] and my decisions.”
While Walker has the talent and athletic ability to score, she’s needed some convincing from Hicks to look for her shot.
“I’m telling myself sometimes that I need to pass it because I don’t want to be a ball hog, but the coach is telling me to drive it,” Walker said after Wednesday’s game. “I guess that I have to drive it. If he’s telling me to drive it, it’s not me ball-hogging because he’s telling me to do it in front of everybody.”
Is she comfortable that role?
“As long as I make it,” Walker said, “I’ll be comfortable.”
Walker said competing at the high school varsity level has been more difficult than her experiences playing AAU.
“It’s harder than I thought,” she said. “They’re real aggressive. It’s more work, but you get used it. If you have the ability to do stuff—which is why you’re on varsity—then you’ll be used to it, you’ll be good and you’ll get better every time if you learn by your mistakes.”
Walker and Durjan started Wednesday’s game along with juniors Jewell Johnson, Josepha Mbouma and Grace Boito. Walker and Durjan are the youngest on a roster with three sophomores, six juniors and no seniors.
“We make each other feel like we’re equal,” Walker said of her relationship with Durjan. “We’re good friends and we’re psyched to be on varsity because it’s really awesome. We motivate each other a lot.”
Hicks described the duo as “very unselfish, fun to coach, willing to learn.”
“They will be successful here in Montgomery County and they may have a great opportunity to play in college at the next level if they continue to progress the way they are.”