Ashburn, Va. — Just over three years ago, then Stone Bridge freshman Audrey Cowden, Taylor Hafer, and Sarah O’Day stepped on the court for the varsity Bulldogs for the first time. That team was led by a pair of elite scorers, but Cowden, Hafer, and O’Day did their part to contribute. Now, the three are suiting up together for one final season as seniors, and their growth over the past three years has proved fruitful.
“They started with us as freshmen, and during those years we had a few superstars, but this year, we don’t have someone that stands out as someone who’s going to score 20 points a game,” Stone Bridge assistant coach Skyla Ausel said. “They were leaders last year, but they’ve really stepped up this year, and I think they’re the reason we’ve been so successful.”
Cowden, Hafer, and O’Day—along with fellow senior Erica Lawrence—have helped lead the Bulldogs to a 5-1 start in 2020-2021, including their most recent win, 52-34, over Ashburn-rival Briar Woods on January 6.
“We’ve lost to Briar Woods the last five times we played them, so tonight is a huge deal for our girls,” said Ausel, who served as acting head coach in the absence of head coach Kyle Linder. “Some of these girls have played them over and over the past few years and we were without our head coach, so to be able to put up an 18-point win is absolutely huge.”
Stone Bridge jumped out to an early 6-0 lead as Cowden and Lawrence connected on three-pointers, but Briar Woods responded by scoring the next 7 points to take the lead. Lawrence ended the Falcons’ short run with another three pointer as the Bulldogs once again reclaimed the lead—and this time, they wouldn’t give it back up.
While Cowden and Lawrence got the Bulldog train moving, it was O’Day who put together a consistent scoring effort, leading Stone Bridge with a 17-point, 11-rebound double-double.
“Sarah has improved tenfold since last year,” Ausel said. “She’s catching the ball confidently, she’s being big with it, and she’s not afraid to shoot the ball. Everyone trusts each other so her teammates know if they pass to her she’s going to finish.”
Briar Woods is in a similar position to where Stone Bridge was in 2017-2018 as the Falcons started three freshmen and a sophomore and saw regular minutes from another freshman and sophomore off the bench. Freshman forward Hope Drake turned in an 8-point, 7-rebound performance while senior forward Grace Nathan led the Falcons’ scoring effort with 9.
As both teams continue to grow—one with experience, the other just getting their feet wet—they will continue to take everything day by day in one of the most bizarre and memorable seasons they’ll ever be a part of.
“We don’t know if they’re going to cancel winter sports tomorrow, so we’re just taking it one game at a time, and I think that is serving us really well,” Ausel said. “Our girls have fun playing together, they’re embracing their roles, and we have 13 solid basketball players that can go in at any given moment.”
Stone Bridge Stats
Briar Woods Stats