St. John’s, seeking a fourth Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship game appearance in as many years, is facing a more difficult road there than last season, with a younger lineup and more competitive teams like Paul VI and Bishop O’Connell.
The Cadets, now 11-5 (6-2 WCAC), dropped two crucial conference games this month, first a 53-52 contest at Bishop O’Connell, followed by a physical 42-37 matchup with Washington Post 1st-ranked Bishop McNamara (18-2, 10-0 WCAC) at Gallagher Gymnasium, despite the return of 2018-19 Gatorade Player of the Year Azzi Fudd ‘21.
After the Cadets’ national championship loss to New Hope Academy (MD), the team was looking at a rebuilding stage. They lost talented and experienced seniors like Malu Tshitenge-Mutombo and Carly Rivera, and Fudd’s status for her junior season was unclear after she tore both her ACL and MCL at a USA Basketball event.
That shifted the focus to younger players during St. John’s non-conference schedule, in which they went 5-3 with a 32-31 win over Rutgers Prep (NJ) in Philadelphia as well as a 2-1 record at a tournament in Brooklyn. Less experienced players like junior Taylor Napper and freshman Delaney Thomas were forced to step up, but it’s paid off: Napper scored 16 points at Bishop O’Connell, and Thomas led the Cadets with 11 points against McNamara, in a game where the Cadets struggled to find space and create quality shots.
Thomas said that she appreciated the experience she gained working on a younger team, with help from her coaches and Fudd. “Even though she hadn’t been playing, I’ve already learned so much from Azzi,” Thomas said after the game.
“Experience is something these girls need to get, and games like this is how you get it,” head coach Jonathan Scribner said after the loss to McNamara. “You can only do so much in practices, and they have to go through these types of games figure out how to make plays.”
While early reports suggested Fudd would miss close to the entire season, she made a surprise return in the game against Bishop Ireton on January 3rd, announced via the team’s official Twitter (@SJCHSBBALL). The Cadets won 63-51 as Fudd scored 18 points. In her last five games, Fudd is averaging 15.4 points per game.
When asked about her return from injury, Fudd started out bluntly.
“Recovery sucked,” she said before laughing. “But it feels good to be back on the court with my girls after watching them go through a long preseason.”
As they prepare for the second half of the WCAC season, Scribner emphasized a problem with turnovers.
“We got to take care of the basketball a little bit better…it’s a race to the playoffs and you want to be prepared; come playoff time, that’s where you make your money.”