Leesburg, Va. — For the past six years, there’s been a lot of change for the Tuscarora High School girls basketball team, including three different head coaches and playing in three different districts across two VHSL state classifications. But throughout all the change, one thing has remained consistent since 2014: there’s always been a Middleton on the court.
While she played beside her sister—and two-time All-LoCo Player of the Year—Isabellah last year, Tuscarora sophomore guard Grace Middleton was never the type of player to hide away in the shadows. Last year, Isabellah made that clear and said she would take a note every time Grace scored, because the then freshman didn’t think her older sister passed her the ball enough.
Well, without her sister by her side and without her family cheering her on from their standard spot in the top right corner of the Tuscarora bleachers, Grace was ready to lead the Huskies into battle to start their 2020 campaign. In their season opener, Middleton led the team with 10 points in their win over Independence. She then backed up her 10-point performance, scoring a game-high 23 points in the Huskies’, 35-30, win over Dominion on December 23 in Leesburg.
“Grace was phenomenal tonight,” first-year Tuscarora head coach Tayler Dodson said. “We’re preaching across the board, but definitely with Grace, being aggressive on offense. Obviously, we lost Bellah who did everything, and now, we need somebody to fill that role, so we’re pushing Grace a little bit more into that role.”
In her second game of the season, Middleton certainly showed that she’s up to the challenge, single-handedly matching the Titans point for point in the first quarter. However, despite turning the ball over ten times in the first quarter alone, Dominion was still very much in the game.
That is in part because throughout the game, both teams struggled to take care of the basketball as the Huskies and Titans combined to turn the ball over 56 times.
“We’re really young, so we used some of our timeouts early and just said ‘stay calm, stay strong, and take care of the ball,’” Dodson said. “We’re confident in our defense right now, so we wanted to really take our time and take care of the ball on offense.”
Tuscarora did a much better job of taking care of the basketball in the second quarter, taking a 20-13 lead into halftime. However, coming out of the locker room, the Titans went to work. Dominion senior guard Jessi Montgomery and junior forward Bailey Vann led the effort in turning up the defensive pressure, as the Titans completely erased the Huskies’ lead by the 7-minute mark in the fourth quarter.
While Dominion continued to put pressure on Tuscarora, the young Huskies—who did not have a single senior available against the Titans—settled down offensively, took better control of the ball, and continued to pour on the pressure defensively, holding off the Titans’ run to earn their second win of the season.
“We’re quick and we’re small, so we’re going to run at you and pressure, pressure, pressure. We’re going to wait for you to make mistakes,” Dodson said. “The girls are doing a great job with their rotations, getting help, moving their feet, and playing with their hands up.”
It was a total team effort for the Huskies as Dodson routinely rotated her deep roster in and out, which included junior guard Katherine Scheivert and freshman forward Alysa Carrigan coming off the bench to corral 15 combined rebounds.
“We’ve been preaching being consistent with our defensive pressure,” Dodson said. “I have ten girls who can rotate on and give me that pressure. The depth of our bench is really what gives us a step up right now in the later quarters.”
Tuscarora (0-0, 2-0) will look to continue their winning ways when they host Broad Run on December 29, while Dominion (0-0, 1-1) will look to bounce back against that same Spartans team on December 30.
“I love our energy, effort, and enthusiasm, and they bring that every day,” Dodson said. “They’re just a happy group of girls, and they’re ready to get after it, whatever we throw at them.”