Aldie, VA (February 19, 2015) – The Knights of John Champe High School won a pair of Group 3A Conference 28 tournament semifinals Thursday night in Aldie, setting the stage for a Friday evening of championship basketball at Champe.
Champe’s girls (14-7) survived a ragged affair with Warren County to claim a 44-33 win. Then the Knight boys (17-4) took the court for a lopsided 64-48 victory over Rock Ridge (12-11).
The two teams of Knights find themselves on the same itinerary. Champe’s boys and girls both finished atop the conference’s regular season standings to earn top seeds; both advanced past the quarterfinals on account of winter; both were victorious in hosting semis.
Now both third-year programs will aim to hang Champe’s first-ever hoops banner on the school gym’s championship wall — but both will have to vanquish the Loudoun Valley Vikings, the conference’s second seed and the county’s second-oldest basketball program, to do it.
A twinbill clash between the Knights and the Vikings is set for Friday evening at Champe. At the publication of this article on Friday morning, that double-header is not yet definite as Loudoun County Public Schools have adjourned due to weather. Stay tuned to VivaLoudoun’s informative and active Twitter feed for scores and scheduling updates.
Girls: John Champe 44, Warren County 33
With teams being prevented from play or practice for the better part of a week, both ballgames creaked audibly with rust. Certainly, that’s how Knights third-year girls’ coach Will Patton saw his team’s tilt.
“It was an ugly affair,” Patton assessed, noting it was his team’s first game action in nine days. “We didn’t end the season playing very well, so we came in fighting a confidence issue.”
Turnovers and fouls affected the pace of play, but all the hacks and steals didn’t stop the junior duo of Clara Novalis and Ja’che Malone from putting in 12 points apiece. Malone nailed two of Champe’s three 3-pointers of the night; Blair Thompson knocked home the other, early in the first.
Ultimately, Patton said it was his team’s superior athleticism which allowed the Knights to apply press coverage, resulting in key turnovers.
Solid free-throw shooting in the fourth quarter helped determine the difference. Eight of Champe’s 12 final-quarter points came from the charity stripe, with four each from Malone and Thompson.
The Knights are contending without the services of leading scorer Alexis Ali, done for the postseason with a knee injury. Patton mentioned a pair of freshmen in Callie Fernandez and Karlie Harman as two players stepping into larger roles.
Senior defensive specialist Alexis Smith is being counted on to be a stable influence as Champe’s postseason progresses.
“It was important for us to have this home game, to have our fans with us,” Patton said. “We didn’t play as well as we wanted to, but obviously we played well enough to win and I’m proud of the girls for doing that.”
Boys: John Champe 64, Rock Ridge 48
The stage then belonged to Champe’s boys, and Kuony Deng stood at the center of it. The long, wiry 6-foot-5 junior filled up the stat sheet with three steals, four assists, five blocks, eight rebounds and 16 points. Plus two dunks.
“It was nice to have him walk in the door. He’s obviously a tremendous asset,” said first-year Knights coach Bill Maher of Deng, who transferred to Champe before the school year. “But it’s not just him. They all play well together, and that’s what I’m so proud of.”
Deng had plenty of help from his friends. Champe piled up a lead as high as 10 points in the first quarter, as four different Knights ringed in 3-pointers. The lead was 20 by the midpoint of the second quarter.
Deng turned in the highlight of the night in the opening moments of the second quarter. He got a hand in front of a pass at midcourt and picked up the deflection on the run. With long loping strides he cruised the court, eyes on the rim as he elevated for a two-hand slam, causing the Knights’ student section — The Dungeon — to go berserk.
Rock Ridge, a first-year program with no seniors, fought back. The Phoenix’s deficit whittled to 12 near the close of the third, but Zach Burdick dropped home a rally-quelling 3-pointer, and the home team wasn’t threatened again.
The Phoenix — who defeated Champe on the same floor 73-63 on Feb. 5 — were led by 12 points from freshman Ayush Mayur, including two 3-pointers, plus 11 from sophomore Deontay Compton and 10 by captain Tommy Caldwell.
Rock Ridge coach Jay Geyer, after guiding a youthful start-up program to a record over .500 in its inaugural campaign, sees much to build on.
“I think you saw us growing up today. You saw a little toughness, a little bit of guys having each other’s backs,” Geyer said. “I think it was a great first season…. But getting a year older doesn’t mean a year better. We need to have a good off-season, keep working and stay hungry.”
Senior guard Ismail Canton lived to play another day, turning in an all-around performance including 12 points. Fellow upperclassman Jeremiah Smith hauled in eight rebounds. Max Murray drilled two 3-pointers, while Scotty Collier and Sean Prendergast hit one apiece.
Burdick poured in a game-high 19 points while dishing five assists. The irony of the Knights’ quarterback completing passes on the basketball court was not lost on Maher.
“He’s the quarterback on the football team and he’s the quarterback for us, too,” Maher said. “When things get bad, we look to him to control things. He’s a leader on the team.”
By Jason S. Rufner