VIENNA -- It was a far cry from the customary late winter trip to the Stuart C. Siegel Center at Virginia Commonwealth University, with the sparse crowd of less than 100 at James Madison High School taking up one side of the bleachers in one of Northern Virginia’s smaller high school venues with the teams on the other.
The socially distanced teams and fans, including a decidedly partisan crowd for the homestanding Warhawks looking to defend their 6A girl’s basketball title against Osbourn Park, never lacked for energy in the relatively subdued environment.
But in the end, the team that had yet to lose at home this season proved too difficult to conquer on their own hardwood one final time.
Behind 20 points from junior Alayna Arnolie and a quick defense built on forcing regular turnovers, James Madison pulled away in the fourth quarter to repeat as state champions in a 54-48 win over the Yellow Jackets on Saturday.
Opening the game with a 15-7 run and never letting their lead diminish below three points, the Warhawks (16-1) methodically weaved through the OP zone defense and found lanes for their entry passes in just the right spot for easy layups or spot-up jumpers.
“This whole team, we’re skilled dribblers, we can attack the basket, we can take the shot. That’s what I love about this team, we’re versatile,” said Madison guard Amalia Makrigiorgos. The Warhawks’ lone senior was the first to cut down the nets, and she could have counted herself among many of those with tear-filled eyes afterward as the emotion of a dream season came pouring out.
“It’s the best [feeling] to come out here and accomplish this goal that I’ve been thinking about for the past year,” Makrigiorgos said.
Madison coach Kirsten Stone spoke on the support her team has received from the Vienna community throughout the season,
“We didn’t think that we would make it two weeks, and the fact that we made it to states has been pretty awesome,” Stone said. “The town’s been so supportive, Vienna’s one of the last places that is a small-town community.”
The championship was JMHS’ fourth and their first win in a state championship game since 1993 after the VHSL named them co-champions with Edison last March; Osbourn Park (14-2) was making their first appearance in the final.
After the Yellow Jackets climbed back within 39-36 early in the fourth, Madison answered with a five-point run of their own for some additional breathing room. Arnolie hit a backbreaking three-pointer to extend the lead to nine with less than two minutes left, and the Warhawks went 8-10 from the free-throw line in the final frame to put the game away.
“The execution of [their] team offensively, and their composure in big moments when they needed big shots, they got it done,” said OP coach Chrissy Kelly, who made her return to the state championship game after three prior appearances with Forest Park, including wins in 2004 and 2006. “In the moments we were potentially able to close the gap, we weren’t able to hit the shots or hit the layups.”
Jo Raflo had a game-high 23 points for OP, with 17 of those and five of her seven made three-pointers coming in the second half.
“I think losing is hard because the excitement of winning a regional, they know that side and then [they’re] experiencing this,” Kelly said of her team that will graduate eight seniors. “I was fortunate to win a couple and I’ve lost one before, but this is the first time I’ve been back as somebody who’s older, more experienced, and understood the journey that we’ve been on. So being able to take in the moment with my seniors, to really understand the magnitude of their growth from freshmen to seniors.
"That tonight is the hardest part, hugging them and saying goodbye.”