After the Walt Whitman High School boys basketball team squeaked out an overtime win Saturday in the Class 4A West region title game, fans didn’t have to go far to see the school’s girls’ team accomplish the same feat.
Just a few hours later, the girls team had comfortably won its region title game on the same court at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, setting up a rarity in Montgomery County high school hoops—the boys and girls teams from the same school making the state semifinals in the same year.
“It is awesome,” said Whitman Principal Alan Goodwin, who like many Vikings’ supporters will have a busy Thursday.
The girls semifinal game against North Point High School is at 5 p.m. Thursday at Towson University. The boys semifinal game against defending Class 4A state champ Meade High School is set for 9 p.m. Thursday at the Xfinity Center at the University of Maryland.
“The boys and girls work extremely hard,” said girls coach Peter Kenah, who will be making his fourth appearance in the state semifinals.
There’s camaraderie between players on both teams and some have long been friends, Kenah said. Some even played together on a co-ed youth team in elementary school.
Boys’ coach Chris Lun will be making his third state finals appearance, and his second in three years. “We’re great friends, Chris and I. There are never any problems with us stepping on the other’s turf or anything like that,” Kenah said.
Lun said the pair traveled together to a state tournament media availability Tuesday at Towson University. “I think it’s a real good thing for the Whitman community to have two successful basketball programs,” he said.
Kenah and Lun have had sustained success at Whitman, building what have become two of the most consistent basketball programs in the county.
Lun’s 2006 team won the state title with a 39-38 upset of perennial Prince George’s County power Eleanor Roosevelt High School, what longtime Washington Post high school sports writer Josh Barr called “one of the biggest upsets in Maryland tournament history.” Kenah is still looking for his first state title.
This year’s boys and girls teams took very different paths to the state semifinals.
The girls team (22-3) returned key players from last year’s state semifinal run, including Abby Meyers, the star junior guard getting recruiting attention from major programs in the Big Ten and ACC. Many expected the team to return to Towson’s SECU Arena as the repeat Class 4A West region champions.
Kenah said players took photos of the arena’s court after last year’s semifinal loss to Eleanor Roosevelt to use as motivation for a return trip. It was the team’s first and only loss of last season.
This season, Kenah added tougher private school competition to the team’s early season schedule, including nationally ranked Neumann-Goretti out of Philadelphia, and Whitman suffered three losses.
“We lost those games but it exposed some of our weaknesses and we only got better,” Kenah said.
Three other players—senior guard Marie Hatch, heading to Cornell next fall, senior forward Betsy Knox (Middlebury College) and senior guard Hannah Niles (Loyola of Maryland)—are set to play college basketball, giving Kenah perhaps his most talented group ever that, for the most part, dominated other Montgomery County teams.
The boys team (17-9) experienced a bit more uncertainty, including three straight losses to Churchill, Richard Montgomery and Wootton in January.
But the team also has a star, senior guard Shaq Diboti-Lobe, who transferred from Churchill before his junior year and who averaged more than 20 points a game this season. He had 29 points in Whitman’s overtime win Saturday against Clarksburg despite playing much of the game with foul trouble.
“I’m not trying to be cocky, but when you have Shaq and when you have Abby, you have the best player on the court 90 percent of the time,” Kenah said.
Lun said the rest of his players, including second-leading scorer Max Oppenheim, have taken to their roles and the team eventually embraced his program’s emphasis on team defense and ball movement.
“We’ve always stressed ball movement and shot selection and it’s taken this group a little bit of time to get used to that,” Lun said. “But now that we’re comfortable, we’re starting to see a difference.”
Goodwin hopes the teams keep him busy into the weekend, when the semifinal winners meet in the state championship games.