There were several sub-plots brewing when Atlee Raiders girls basketball arrived last Tuesday at Varina High School to face the Blue Devils.
Atlee head coach Michael Rawlings would be facing his former assistant, now Blue Devils head coach Dashia Chandler, while senior forward Alyse Armentrout stood seven points shy of becoming the 12th member of the Atlee basketball thousand-point club.
It seemed, for a time, that these issues were distracting the Raiders a bit from the biggest task at hand, that being a victory over a ranked team. In fact, a 6-0 run to start the second quarter gave Varina a 12-11 lead. But over the next four minutes, Atlee went on an 11-5 run of its own, capped by an Armentrout putback in the lane which placed her at 1,001 career points.
From that moment on, Atlee regathered its purpose for the night, and never lost the lead again. Building on a three-point halftime lead, the Raiders took a nine-point lead to the fourth, saw point guard Kylie Eastman block a Varina shot from the free throw line early in the fourth to set the final tone as Atlee pulled away for a 51-38 victory.
Armentrout finished with 22 points, good for 1,019 for her career and immediately deflected any credit while admitting the milestone was something she wanted to see come and go quickly.
“Absolutely, I was really nervous in the beginning, a lot of pressure. It was kind of nice to get it done, then keep playing the game because I think all of the excitement was feeding into our team’s adrenaline, so we were pushing the ball a little too hard,” Armentrout explained.
Varina, a team known for creating fast scoring runs off their pressure defense, was never able to accomplish that, thanks in part to the work of Eastman, who added 13 points to her critical ball-handling skills, limiting turnovers, and denying the Blue Devils opportunities for the fastbreak points it needed to jump start a comeback attempt.
“We talked about it at halftime collecting ourselves, talked about what we needed to do,” Armentrout recalled. “Together, as a team, we looked at what we did wrong, came back out, and didn’t let them back in the game.”
Atlee moved on to finish 3-0 for the week, defeating an improving Hermitage squad Wednesday before a tough battle hosting Hanover Friday, turning a one-point halftime deficit into a slight lead, holding the Hawks at bay time after time in the fourth quarter to escape with a 65-59 win to improve their record to 10-3, good enough for the Raiders to return to the new RVA Sports Network Top 10 Girls Basketball Poll this week, ranked ninth in the area.
Armentrout finished the Hanover game with 20 points, while Hannah Nitz had a huge night, scoring 14 points for the Raiders. Sarah Wright led Hanover (7-6) with 21 points, while Jordan Davis added 15 and Rachael Metzger added eight points.
For Armentrout, this last season in an Atlee uniform is all about the experience.
“I love working with all of my teammates. We really are a close knit group,” Armentrout explained. “There’s a lot more chemistry on the court; we’ve been playing with each other since sixth grade, so we kind of know where we’re going to be on the court. Kylie (Eastman) will drive down to the basket and she’ll know I’ll be in the middle for her.”
Just after the Hanover win, there was another kind of chemistry brewing at the Atlee bench as, surrounded by his team, each holding a rose, Coach Rawlings got down on one knee and proposed to his girlfriend. The collective screams of the basketball team confirmed to everyone in the gym that she said yes.
It was a week that could be hard to beat as the season rolls on for Atlee girls basketball.