GREENBELT – The Lady Raiders had a regular season to remember, yet a postseason to forget during the 2016-2017 high school basketball campaign.
At Eleanor Roosevelt High School, when it comes to high school athletics, the mentality is always championship or bust. From 2005-2009, Roosevelt was known as the team to beat after winning five consecutive state titles under the direction of former head coach Rod Hairston.
However, Roosevelt has not had that same level of success the last few years since current head coach Delton Fuller won back-to-back state in 2014 and 2015.
After posting a 22-4 record and an astounding undefeated mark in the region, the Raiders were on pace to complete their championship journey until they met Walt Whitman High School as a final four combatant during the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association playoffs. Despite putting together a valiant effort, Whitman reigned supreme and walked away with a 49-43 victory.
This season may contain a problematic route to championship glory after the Raiders lost one of their best players to graduation. Fuller will certainly miss former standout and current UNC-Charlotte forward Octavia Wilson, who led the team in scoring a year ago.
However, Ashia McCalla was dominant in the scoring department as well, averaging 15 points per game last season, and Fuller will look for her to do the same for the team this season. Despite losing Wilson's 18 points per game average, McCalla has shown she can be a leader on the court and can score at will.
“Going into this season, we lost a couple of our key components, so we are trying to build to what we used to be last year with the same intensity and same drive,” McCalla said. “As a senior, I feel like I have to be a leader and step up, so I know what we need to do and what path that we need to follow to get to where we need to be.”
Fuller believes McCalla is in for a big season as well.
“The only thing that has hurt her is that the past couple of years she has dealt with some injuries,” Fuller said, and also acknowledged she is on pace to have a breakout season. “She has really been growing and maturing as a player.”
Another student-athlete who has impressed Fuller is senior Nia Scott. Scott might not light up the scoreboard as much as McCalla by only scoring 9.6 points per game last season, but she is scrappy and will sacrifice her body for tough rebounds and loose balls, and is a pest defensively, causing numerous turnovers in her team's favor.
“It is going to be a challenge to continue being successful throughout the season, but I think we can do it as long as we work hard in practice and keep our heads up,” Scott said. "I've worked on being more of an offensive threat. The past couple of years I kind of just liked to do the dirty work, but now losing a couple of key players, we are going to have spread out the scoring for everyone."
Fuller jokingly referred to Scott as a 5-foot-7 version of Dennis Rodman, describing her intense style of play that makes her so valuable to this team.
Instead of one player carrying the load like Wilson did last season, there will need to be a collective effort to reach the championship game this year.
"We are going to be all about defense this year," Fuller said. “Octavia (Wilson) shot about 40 percent of the time last year. Between her and Ashia – they were our two shooters. We have some plays set up to get the ball down low to our bigs now, but defense wins games."
Even though it will not be easy, Fuller and everyone involved in the process have accepted the challenge. The Lady Raiders are still a team that every 4A competitor will have to respect going forward.