Darin Jenkins knew this season wasn't going to be easy for his team, but he also knew that they had enough talent to make it one to remember.
The Strasburg girls basketball coach said he was proud of the way his team responded to the pressure that was on them. The Rams were coming off of a Class 2 state quarterfinal appearance in 2019 and improved on that this season by advancing to the Class 2 state semifinals.
"At the beginning of the year, we sort of all knew that we had a chance to do something pretty special based off of what we was able to get accomplished last year," Jenkins said. "We had most of the girls back. So I think our goals were high going into it and playing with that type of pressure is never easy."
Jenkins, The Northern Virginia Daily's 2019-20 Girls Basketball Coach of the Year, said things were different this season because everyone wanted to beat them and were aware of how talented they were.
"We knew everyone was aware of what we had done and all of a sudden we had a bulls eye on our back," Jenkins said. "But I thought the girls did a good job of accepting that and that's a lot of pressure and I think they handled it well."
The Rams started the season off 19-0 before suffering their only regular season loss of the year to Luray, 57-43, on Feb. 4.
"It was a good group of girls," Jenkins said. "Most of them had been playing up at that level since they were freshmen. It just felt special from the first day. I felt like there was no jealousy amongst each other. There was no 'she's the leading scorer, I should be the leading scorer.' There was none of that. I think everyone sort of come in and accepted their role, knew what their role was and did the best they could to accomplish that every night to help the team win."
The Rams only losses came to Luray. They came up short in four of their five meetings, including a 52-36 loss in the Class 2 state semifinals.
Strasburg went 26-4 and Jenkins said the team accomplished basically everything they set out to do.
"If you look back and say how would you rank this year?" Jenkins said. "I think it's a success. I think we made it a step further than we did last year. Our goal was to get to Richmond (for the state finals) and play in that last game. We fell one game short of that, but there was a lot of good things that came out of this year, as a team and as individuals."
Jenkins said a big part of the success came from the strong nucleus of seniors.
The senior group of Maddie Smallwood, Delainey Stickley, Christyan Reid, Jaden Alsberry and Karly Colcombe were a big part in turning the girls basketball program around.
"It's very rewarding as a coach, they came up as freshmen and you sort of saw the potential they had," Jenkins said. "And we knew early on being that young and getting thrown into the varsity level, it was going to be some bumps in the road. And we certainly had our bumps and looking back, I think each one of them became better basketball players. And, most importantly, I think each one of them became better individuals, because of being together every day and pushing each other and just learning how to compete. Hopefully there's some lessons they've learned from basketball season that they can use in life. And anytime you're able to do that as a coach and you have that type of influence on somebody, I think it's a success."
The Rams have been led for the last several years by 6-foot-4 Reid and 6-foot-3 Alsberry, and Jenkins said it will be a challenge to maintain the program's success without them. However, it's a challenge he's looking forward to.
"I think we got some girls some experience," he said. "We've got some younger girls coming up from the JV team that I think are real competitors and love the sport. I think when you have a team full of girls who love basketball, it makes your job easier. I think we have those girls coming back, the ones that just basketball is their sport. I'm anxious to get going with those girls coming back and having the challenge of trying to keep it going."
Jenkins said he didn't have one favorite moment from the season, it was actually the season as a whole and how the community embraced the team that was special to him.
He said the community's support was special and they always had big crowds even when they were on the road. Jenkins said the players mentioned having fans talk to them about the team when they would be out around town and it's something he hopes the players never forget.
"I think that's what I'll take from this season the most is just how we were able to connect the community into the program and just have that excitement," Jenkins said. "Even when we traveled to away games, especially there as we got going there late in the season. The games became more and more important and just the amount of people that was behind us and that's a credit to the girls -- they deserved that. I think that's what I'll take the most of out of this season is just that experience. I was so glad they got to experience that.
"And I think that's something that in 20 years, when they're all moms and they got jobs and they're trying to raise their kids, I think that's something that they'll always be able to look back on and cherish those moments."