The state championship-winning Walt Whitman girls basketball team Credit: By Michelle Jarcho, The Black & White

Longtime Walt Whitman High School girls basketball coach Pete Kenah was recently reading a book to his 8-year-old daughter’s Wood Acres Elementary School class—as part of the Secret Readers program—when he stopped to ask if anyone in the room liked basketball and who their favorite players were.

NBA stars LeBron James and Kobe Bryant were the first two names blurted out. The third caught Kenah pleasantly by surprise.

“This darling girl raised her hand and said, ‘[Whitman junior] Abby Meyers,’” he said. “She said she wants to be the next Abby Meyers.”

A top NCAA Division I recruit and Montgomery County’s leading scorer (21 points per game), Meyers has brought notoriety to Whitman girls’ basketball since she arrived in 2013-14. And on Saturday afternoon, the dynamic guard scored a team-high 21 points in the Vikings’ 71-55 win over Baltimore County’s Western High School in the Class 4A state championship game held at Towson University.

The victory marked Whitman’s first state title since 1995, second overall—the Vikings fell to eventual state champion Eleanor Roosevelt High School out of Prince George’s County in last year’s state semifinals.

“It was just a very special night,” Kenah said. “This is the third time in four years that we’ve made it to states and my fourth time making it to states. We’ve been knocking at the door and there’s a feeling of satisfaction to [go all the way]. The intensity was there from the start [Saturday] and we jumped out to a big lead in the first quarter.”

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Meyers lives for big moments, Kenah said; she’s wired to perform under pressure. Some people hide in corners when the game is on the line, Kenah added, but that’s when Meyers wants the ball in her hand most. She’s a game-changer. Her versatility, playmaking ability and tenacity has certainly set her apart from players in the rest of the county—and state.

But Whitman’s historic run this past winter was far from a one-woman show.

The Vikings’ success, rather, was rooted in experience, trust and the ability to overcome and learn from early obstacles—Whitman lost two of its first three games but finished its season on a 19-game win streak—and the willingness of individual players to embrace their respective roles.

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The majority of this year’s squad, which included six seniors and five juniors, played more than 150 games together, dating back to middle school ball, Kenah said.

“There was such an amazing comfort level,” Kenah said. “They trust and care for each other so much. There’s no doubt, there was a huge trust factor. If you share the ball, you know you’ll get it back.”

It was Whitman’s efficient ball movement that enabled it to break down the various defensive tactics Western threw the Vikings’ way Saturday, something they struggled with in the loss to Roosevelt a year ago. Whitman tallied 14 assists on 21 field goals, which Kenah said is fairly unique at the high school level. One difference Saturday from a year ago, Kenah said, was the presence of Cornell University recruit Marie Hatch.

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Photos via Michelle Jarcho, The Black & White

The senior point guard has fought injuries all four high school seasons and missed last year’s state tournament. Hatch was out for a month earlier this season and pushed herself to recover in time for states. In addition to complementing Meyers in the back court, Hatch brought an invaluable calming presence to the team whenever she was on the court, Kenah said. She also might have been the best on-ball defender in the county, he added. On Saturday, she held Western sophomore Jasmen Walton to six points, well under her season average of 15 points per game.  

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As she did all season, Loyola recruit Hannah Niles played a major role in Saturday’s victory. The senior scored 18 points on nine shots and every time Western made a run it was she, Kenah said, who netted an important shot. Whitman also converted 19 of 22 free throw attempts—a percentage Kenah said is being looked into as a possible championship record—and was 14 of 15 in the second half.

Whitman will certainly have some holes to fill next winter after graduating a senior class with three NCAA Division I recruits—6-foot senior forward Betsy Knox turned down an offer from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County to attend Middlebury College in Vermont for academic reasons.

But the Vikings are slated to return the state’s top player, along with several other athletes who notched major minutes this season. Saturday’s championship has already inspired junior varsity players looking to move up and make an impact next season, Kenah said.

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And, as he learned during Secret Readers, Whitman’s success is affecting girls all the way down to the elementary school age.

“It’ll be different next year, but we’ll still have the best player in the state, and that helps everything,” Kenah said. “Her twin, Livy, is playing really well. It’s inspiring, [to win states], so many players on the junior varsity team have gotten excited for the ride. They’re already telling me they want to work out, they want to lift. It was a real inspiring run.”

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Photos via Michelle Jarcho, The Black & White