Deja Rollins could only watch from the sideline as her Gaithersburg High School girl’s basketball team suffered its fourth loss of the young season, 65-54, at Northwest High School on Dec. 21.
The star senior tried to play in the first half, but her leg couldn’t take it. She had suffered a knee contusion in a preseason scrimmage, and she had been in and out of the lineup ever since.
Without her steadying presence at point guard, the Trojans struggled. The two-time defending MPSSAA Girl’s Basketball Tournament champions lost four of their first seven games, entering the holiday break in an unfamiliar position.
Two months later, though, those early season missteps are a distant memory. Rollins is healthy, and so are Gaithersburg’s tournament chances. The Trojans won their final 13 games of the season, putting them in prime position to win their third consecutive MPSSAA title.
“It was pretty difficult, especially the games that we lost. I knew I should have been on the floor,” said Rollins, whose team will face Thomas S. Wootton High School in the second round of the tournament Monday night. “We’re definitely working better as a team now that everybody is back and healthy.”
Coach Adrian “Hotdog” McDaniel said the Trojans were averaging close to 30 turnovers per game in their four losses, but Rollins’ return has stabilized a team that seemed disorganized without its veteran leader on the court.
“Everybody knows that in girls’ basketball, you got to have a point guard to run the show,” McDaniel said. “It don’t matter who you play; you can’t win averaging 30 turnovers a game.”
Those same issues haven’t plagued them with a healthy Rollins on the court,and Gaithersburg enters the as one of the hottest teams in the field. They’re the No. 1 seed in the 4A West Region, and they’ll face off against a Wootton team on Monday that they’ve already beaten once this season—a 50-47 victory on Dec. 17.
Should they get past Wootton, they face potential matchups with Bethesda-CC, Churchill, Walter Johnson, Kennedy, Blair and Walt Whitman en route to the regional finals. Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. High School—the team they’ve beaten in each of the last two state championship games—is the No. 6 seed in the South region.
“We’re very confident. I have a lot of faith in our team,” senior guard Birana Jones said. “I definitely have no doubt we can catch that third straight state title.”
McDaniel agrees. Following a 21-point victory over James Hubert Blake High School in their regular-finale, the Trojan’s coach thinks his girls are peaking at the right time.
“All the teams are playing well. Everybody can beat everybody,” McDaniel said. “It’s whoever is playing the best. Right now we’re jelling together, which is real great, and the girls are staying real humble about what we’re doing. We’re not getting a big head; everybody knows we don’t allow that. We stay humble, we stay focused.”
Rollins didn’t get to start her senior season the way she wanted. But now that she’s healthy, she wants to finish it the right way — with a third consecutive MPSSAA State Championship.
“I really want to end my season strong. I want it for my team, but I think I want it more for myself,” Rollins said. “Going into college with that would be fantastic.”
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