When second-year Walter Johnson High School girls basketball coach Lindsey Zegowitz joined the Wildcats last season, she didn’t know any of the players and didn’t have any expectations, she said.
Although it was fairly easy to exceed Zegowitz’s non-expectations, the Wildcats did go on to surprise quite a few people.
Walter Johnson went 18-4 last season and advanced to the 4A West Region semifinal round for its first winning season since a 12-10 record 2006-07. The Wildcats also shared the Montgomery 4A South Division title with Winston Churchill.
Walter Johnson graduated two productive starters, but six seniors are back this winter eager to prove last year’s success was no fluke.
Among them are three returning starters: point guard Leemor Banai, 6-foot-2 center Kristen Larrick and guard Melanie Ackerman.
“[Last year] is definitely something we feel like we have to live up to. I think we knew early last year that we had the potential, but it was definitely what we make of it,” Larrick said. “Last year we had a lot of juniors and underclassmen and this year we’re a lot more mature. For us seniors, this is our last year, this is our year to do it.”
Churchill again likely will be Walter Johnson’s strongest opposition in the division. But Thomas S. Wootton is on the rise after its first losing season in recent history and though Walt Whitman lost all five starters, the Vikings shouldn’t be overlooked.
Walter Johnson’s three returning starters alone provide a pretty special dynamic. But Zegowitz said her roster of 14 is extremely deep and versatile, providing Walter Johnson with a lot of options.
Banai is a playmaker who recorded 88 assists last fall — 4.4 per game — and is extremely effective from the perimeter. Ackerman came up with some important baskets in close games last winter.
Larrick, who on Nov. 28 officially signed to play volleyball at the College of William and Mary next fall, doubled her 2011 kill total this fall (246) in leading the Wildcats girls volleyball team to its first state tournament appearance since 1992.
“I’m hoping she can do that with points,” Zegowitz said jokingly with her fingers crossed.
Larrick is much more than size and athleticism. She is a true basketball center, dynamic with great knowledge of the game and her strength in the paint adds an important dimension.
“It’s a real confidence booster knowing someone is always going to be there to get a rebound or post up and move the offense around. She’s the eyes of the court on defense and offense. She sees everything that I can’t. It’s nice that she knows what she’s doing,” Banai said.
Larrick returned the compliment immediately.
“[Banai] is definitely the leader of the team. She is a strong, open-minded point guard. She’ll look for me in the post and I know she has my back and I can pop it back out to her and she’ll get a 3-pointer out there,” Larrick said.
Such trust in each other, along with a long list of potential contributors, Larrick added, sets the foundation for what could be another remarkable year for Walter Johnson.
“We all know what each other can do so we know who to give the ball to at what time and what they’re going to do with it,” Larrick said. “Some people were saying maybe I shouldn’t play this year, but there was no way I wasn’t playing. I could not just watch and not be a part of it.”