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Westlake girls basketball prepares for another run to states this season

By AJ MASON

Staff writer

After propelling the Westlake girls basketball team to a Class 3A South Region championship and a berth to the state semifinals in his first season at the helm, Ardell Jackson and the Wolverines are hungry to make an even further push in the 2012-13 winter season.

Though losing three of its five starters from a season ago to graduation, Westlake will bring back six returning players and two of its starters to this year’s roster, along with three freshmen who will make an immediate impact this year and a core of sophomores and juniors are in the bunch, too.

After having 11 players on the roster last year, the Wolverines will possess 15 girls total this season.

“We are deeper and we lost three key seniors, but we have some leaders on this team,” said Jackson, whose team finished 18-8 overall and finished third in SMAC with a 10-2 record a season ago. The girls know what to expect, we just want to take it game by game and get better, so we can give ourselves a chance to make a push in the state playoffs. We want to get back to UMBC [the site of the girls basketball state semifinals and finals].”

Last season, Westlake downed top-seeded Friendly of Prince George’s County en route to the regional crown. It took on River Hill of Howard County in the state semifinals, falling in a 59-54 heartbreaker.

However, for Jackson and assistant coach Marvin Binion, the expectations will stay on a high level this season.

“We want to win it all,” Jackson said. “We don’t want anything else but a state title. When we lost last season to River Hill, that left a bitter taste in our mouths.”

Losing All-SMAC first-team selection and All-County Athlete of the Year forward TeJahne Malone (23.8 points per game, 19 rpg), All-County first team guard Alyssa Fort (8.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 2.1 steals) and All-SMAC second team guard Kim Brown (12 ppg, 62 three-pointers) will be tough, but this year the core from last season is back.

“We have to fill a couple of spots, but we’ve been working very hard in practice,” said Westlake senior forward Breanna Gleaton, a returning starter who will bring a inside presence down low. “I’m really excited about our team because I know what we are capable of. We are very deep and I think we can get back to where we were last year.”

Sophomore Paige Perminter, who was the team’s starting point guard last season, mentioned that she is excited about the incoming freshmen.

“It was difficult last year coming in as a freshman, so I want to help the freshmen this year with some of the situations that I went through,” Perminter said. “We have a lot of shooters and we have depth, so I think we will press more.”

Damira Banks, a returning junior and sixth man from last season, will be the team’s captain this year. She will bring hard-nosed defense, hustle, speed and constant scoring ability.

“Of course, we are starting a bond, this is a new team and we are a new family,” said Banks, who is a member of the soccer and outdoor track and field teams. “Last year, we played with a lot of heart and that is what it’s going to take.”

Westlake added a couple of new faces to the roster with junior guard transfer Shanea Butler from Surrattsville High School in Prince George’s County and France native Kouanyo Saragba, a senior transfer who attended North Springs High School in Atlanta, Ga., last season.

Butler is being highly recruited by Division I colleges such as LaSalle, University of Maryland Baltimore County and Rhode Island.

“Shanea played in a very competitive league in P.G., she is very physical and athletic,” Jackson said. “She will be a very good addition to the team.”

“The pace is much slower in France,” Saragba said. “I’m excited to be here at Westlake, the communication is a lot different and I’ve learned a lot. Coach Ardell expects me to be a big part to the team.”

“[K] can play ball and she does not back down from anyone,” Jackson said, referring to Saragba. “She’s long, athletic and she plays very good defense.”

Like last season, the Wolverines started with a tough schedule in the preseason, playing H.D. Woodson of Washington D.C. last week. It will kick off the regular season at home versus county foe McDonough in a nonconference affair at 6:30 p.m. Friday.

“We are always trying to play a tough schedule,” Jackson said. “We have Bishop McNamara in the WCAC on the road [Jan.7], which will be a very good test for us.”

ajmason@somdnews.com