Every few years, St. Anne’s-Belfield girls basketball hears it from the nay-sayers, that they’re due for a down year in both the LIS and the VISAA Division 1 tournament. Senior Sierra Smith has played in three straight final fours and she’s heard it all.
Make that four for her and now six straight for the Saints and eight of the last nine after STAB dispatched Potomac 64-48 in the quarterfinals at home to set up another state semifinal showing.
“It’s incredible,” Smith said. “But this was amazing to do this on our own without those big time names. All season we’ve been working to this and so many doubted us because we lost Brianna Tinsley and Jayla Davis. This year it was really important for us to get back here. We had to do this for ourselves and make our own name.”
Jovia Winkey and Vanessa Woodfolk got STAB off to an 11-7 start in the first quarter but it wasn’t until Winkey and Scottie Hull knocked down a combined four 3-pointers in the second to lead the way to a 24-point second quarter that the Saints were able to establish a dominant lead at 35-20 going into the break.
“This team has achieved more than anyone thought they could,” said St. Anne’s coach Phil Stinnie. “They are really taking everyone’s best shot in the first quarter and responding. We’ve been been getting punched in the mouth in the first quarter and then in the second we respond. I really want to see us come out play four full quarters and see what happens. I think it could be amazing. We can’t take that punch in the next round against such a good team.”
In the third, Winkey was aggressive and attacked the basket along with Woodfolk and Smith in the paint to go up 16 heading into the fourth quarter. In the fourth Potomac was able to get to within 10 points of the lead thanks in large part to Sara Park. But the Saints went to work on the clock and at the free throw line with Smith netting six points in the frame and Woodfolk chipping in four to extend things back out into the teens and wrap things up at 64-48.
“This group just loves playing with each other and gets excited by each other succeeding and that’s what it’s all about,” Stinnie said. “
On the night, Winkey finished with a team high 22 points with all of them in the first three quarters.
“We wanted it pretty bad from jump ball,” Winkey said. “I just knew I had to step up as a point guard and produce. In the first half we were moving kind of slow but got things back together. But as a point guard I know when our team needs a bucket I’ll give it to them, when we need a defensive stop I’ll give it to them. That’s just been my role this year.”
Hull had 11 points fueled by three 3-pointer’s. Woodfolk and Smith were dominant down low with 17 points and 13 rebounds and 10 points and eight rebounds respectively. Smith also had three assists.
The whispers of the Saints’ demise were last heard in 2011-2012 when they lost Sarah Imovbioh who went on to play for the University of Virginia and South Carolina. That year STAB fell in the state quarterfinals. But then comes along NK Illang and Haley Kent who helped the Saints get the streak going again. Both graduated in 2014 and Illang plays for Loyola Marymount while Kent went to William and Mary for soccer. Then it was Ashley Taylor, Brianna Tinsley and Jayla Davis and more final fours. Taylor graduated in 2016 and plays for William and Mary. Tinsely and Davis now starts at UVa and Davis has been a key role player for Sacred Heart.
“At the beginning of the season everyone doubted us,” Winkey said. “We pushed through and proved everyone wrong. Nobody thought we’d win the LIS this year but we knocked off Trinity Episcopal and took it back. Returning to the final four, that’s kind of good for us.”
Some rebuilds are cleaner then others apparently. With Smith, Woodfolk and Winkey back in the fold, the core was pretty strong. With Hull and Bailey Cullen stepping up in a big way, the Saints have pulled it off again and will now head to Steward to face Bishop Ireton in the final four on Friday at 4:30 p.m.