[cleeng_content id="756899771" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]SHENANDOAH JUNCTION – Second-year Jefferson girls basketball coach Chris Custer inherited a program struggling to find ways to win, averaging only a few victories during each of the past few seasons.
A former assistant coach at Martinsburg, Custer placed an emphasis a year ago on the basics – ball-handling, shooting, rebounding and playing as a unit – in his first gig atop his own program and he has continued along with that approach.
Now the Lady Cougars are beginning to reap the benefits.
On Saturday, Jefferson held on and earned a 70-67 victory over county-rival Washington after the Lady Patriots had clawed back to tie the game moments earlier after trailing for much of the second half.
Senior forward Marissa Jones tied her season-high mark with 24 points and added 13 rebounds as the Lady Cougars (7-5) won their third consecutive game and earned an important league victory on the road in Charles Town.
Sophomore guard Kirsten Doleman also scored 15 points and had five assists to help pace Jefferson.
The Lady Patriots (3-7) were led by Morgan Adams, who scored 19 points, and Jackie Hess, who added 18.
“All conference games are big when it comes to playoff season,” Custer said. “Ideally you want to try to get that one or two seed, so you can get a bye. And this is a little more important because it’s a Jefferson County rivalry.”
With three-straight victories over Musselman, Park View and Washington, Custer said the Lady Cougars, who only won three games all season last year, are playing the best ball they’ve played for a long time.
“A lot of those games last year, and this year, that we’ve lost, we were still learning how to win,” he said. “We’re starting to slowly turn that corner that we’re winning those tight games. We’re still doing some bonehead stuff, like fouling a three-point shooter. We’re still learning how to do the little, important things to win in the heat of the moment.
“But I think once we get that hammered down a little better, I think we can be a good team,” Custer added.
A lot of the workload has fallen on Jones, who leads Jefferson in scoring with an average of 14 points per game. A strong rebounder and a force within the paint, Jones has scored 20 or more points four times this season, including Saturday night’s tying of her season-best of 24 set Jan. 4 during a loss against Hampshire.
“Arguably at the end of the year last year she was probably the best player in the area,” Custer said. “She really came on at the end of last year, and she’s really carried that on to this year.”
But the Lady Cougars are also experiencing significant contributions from others, including underclassmen such as Doleman and freshman guard Tori Banjoman.
Doleman is averaging 12 points a game and Saturday against Washington served as the third-straight contest where she registered double-digit scoring.
Banjoman is just shy of double-digit scoring, but she has established herself as a threat shooting from perimeter.
“She’s our purest shooter,” Custer said.
“Right now we’re playing our best,” Custer added. “You always want to be playing your best at the end. Some teams peak early, some teams peak in the middle. Right now we’re playing our best, but I think we can do things even better.”