GREENBELT – In their first regular-season encounter on Jan. 4, Bowie and Eleanor Roosevelt girls basketball squads played an emotional contest with the Lady Raiders edging out a 10-point victory, supplanting another chapter in their heated rivalry.
Expectations for the second match-up were high, considering the two high schools’ long-standing rivalry against one another in all athletic competition.
Roosevelt (7-3), on the other hand, had other ideas as it completely dismantled Bowie (7-6) by 39 points this time around.
An early scoring barrage in the first quarter combined with a complete performance by junior Daja Claiborne was enough for Roosevelt to handily defeat Bowie, 72-33, on Jan. 18 to keep pace in the heavily competitive 4A Division.
Memories of the first game were still buried in the Lady Raiders’ heads having only played two games in between and limited practices due to weather cancellations. Roosevelt came out the snow days energized with the extra rest and ready to forget about the Jan. 4 performance.
“We came out there (on Jan. 4) underestimating them, thinking they are the same old Bowie of the past and we were not in the right mindset,” point guard Taylor McCormick said. “We let them be in the game with us then but now, we knew what we were up against…so, we had to put them away early.”
The Lady Raiders’ offense quickly hit its stride in the first quarter, connecting 10 of its first 15 field goals and jumping out to a 26-6 advantage. The five-foot-six McCormick, who finished with 15 points and scored three 3-pointers in the opening period, including connecting a long-range effort while being fouled, setting up a four-point play.
Claiborne and McCormick stole the show. Claiborne, a five-foot-ten forward/center patrolled the paint and protected the rim defensively. The junior was a force around the rim, collecting rebounds, blocking passing lanes for steals and completing her scoring opportunities.
Before shooting, Claiborne often used pump-fakes or spin moves to cause a Bowie defense to overcommit into a blocking situation.
Once they flew in the air, she took advantage and drove to the basket for easy buckets. Claiborne’s play has been a culmination of the extra practice that she has committed to this year. Now, as the final third of the season approaches, her skills are improving at a rapid pace, Head Coach Aubrey Butler said.
“We have definitely noticed the change (in her game),” Butler said. “…That up-and-under move, she has almost perfected it and now, she is shooting from the field as well. With her, we are going to try and be a sleeper and give teams a run for their money down the stretch.”
The junior took over the reins on offense in the third quarter following a left shoulder injury that forced McCormick out of the game. She connected with four of her five field goals, scoring eight points in the period.
“Sometimes, when I have a quarter where my shot is not going in, I figure out what I got to do with my shot and adjust,” Claiborne said. “Once I got that touch, I know I have to keep shooting to keep it.”
The junior facilitated the ball at will going into the third after collecting a loose ball on the baseline and throwing a no-look pass towards fellow forward Makayla Adams. She quickly converted the layup for two of her six points to make Roosevelt’s lead even more insurmountable (38 points).
Roosevelt’s bench jumped out of their seats at the play’s conclusion, with cheers directed at Claiborne for the highlight reel play.
“She was going off,” McCormick said. “She has really progressed a lot; she has been going to the gym a lot. She’s been working on the moves, her shots, the up-and-unders and I just love it so much. She puts in the time, and you can actually see the work come out on the court.”
The suffocating win was Roosevelt’s third-straight and sixth overall in county play.
However, with teams like Charles H. Flowers and Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. showing promise this season, the Lady Raiders will not have an easy road in qualifying for county championships or becoming a top-seed for the state playoffs.
However, with defensive tweaks and improved team intensity, the Lady Raiders believe that they are still the team to beat in the county this season.
“Our intensity level has to all the up already before we hit the court, we have to be at 100,” Claiborne said. “When we come out there with intensity like we did today, all happy, pumped up and ready, no team will be ready for this.”