STRASBURG – The 2018-19 girls basketball season was a coming-of-age story of sorts for Jaden Alsberry.
The Strasburg junior was already an established scorer at the varsity level, evidenced by her 11.6 points per game she averaged during the 2017-18 season. But Alsberry, who missed all but one game as a freshman with a broken foot, was probably a little too focused on points during her first full season at the varsity level last year, she admitted earlier this week.
Alsberry wanted to be more than just a scorer in 2018-19. The 6-foot-3 Alsberry, a towering presence down low on defense who plays more like a guard on offense, wanted to rebound more this season. She wanted to play better defense. She wanted to become a better facilitator for her teammates.
You need to look no further than Strasburg’s playoff run, which ended in the program’s first state tournament appearance since 2005, for proof of Alsberry’s ability to impact the game in various ways for the Rams.
“We relied on her a lot, especially down the stretch when the games got bigger,” Strasburg head coach Darin Jenkins said. “That’s sort of like when the cream rises to the top, you know, and she certainly did that. I think the big thing with her as far as this year is she completely changed her thinking from the way she looked at her performance. In years past it was always based on ‘how many points did I score?’ She’d go out and if she didn’t score 14, 15 points, in her mind I think sometimes she felt like she let herself down and let us down. This year I think she finally understands ‘I can go out and I can score 10 or 11 points a game, and I can do a lot of the other little things to help us win.’ And it showed.”
Alsberry, the Northern Virginia Daily’s 2019 Girls Basketball Co-Player of the Year, left her fingerprints all over Strasburg’s postseason performance, which included Bull Run District and Region 2B tournament championships and an appearance in the Virginia High School League Class 2 state quarterfinals against Maggie Walker Governor’s School.
In a district tournament semifinal win over Madison County, Alsberry was limited to just 3 points but pulled down 14 rebounds. In the district championship against George Mason, she had 7 points, eight rebounds, three steals, four assists and three blocks.
In the regional quarterfinals against Luray, Alsberry nearly had a triple-double with 14 points, nine rebounds and nine assists. She had double-doubles in her last three games, posting 12 points and 16 rebounds in a regional semifinal win over East Rockingham, 14 points and 15 rebounds in the regional championship against Page County and 12 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks in a state quarterfinal loss to Maggie Walker.
Alsberry, a first-team All-Bull Run District, All-Region 2B and Class 2 all-state selection, finished the season ranked among the top six in the Daily’s coverage area in many major statistical categories, including points per game (10.5, sixth), rebounds (7.7, fourth), assists (4.1, second) and steals (2.5, sixth). Strasburg doesn’t keep track of blocked shots, but Alsberry had a boatload of those, too.
Alsberry’s do-everything style fit her preseason goal to do more, but the key to everything was a text message.
A Strasburg team with so much potential was underachieving midway through the season and lost five games during a nine-game stretch. At the season’s bleakest moment, after a 13-point loss to Madison County on Jan. 22, Alsberry texted Jenkins to discuss a fix.
“After that game, I just felt like for myself, I didn’t contribute to the team and I just felt like it just wasn’t there,” Alsberry said. “I guess we were all down and I just wanted to text him and fix things. We’d been down for so long (during) the losing streak, and I wanted to finally get back up and practice harder.
“With me being a captain, in the beginning seasons I wasn’t comfortable talking, standing up and stuff,” she added. “I guess finally someone had to do it, so I finally spoke up.”
Alsberry’s initiative led to a meeting between team captains and coaches the next day, and a 45-minute team-wide meeting after that. An 11-game winning streak followed one that didn’t come to an end until the state quarterfinals.
Jenkins said he and Alsberry have a level of trust in and understanding of each other that lends itself to honest conversations. But Alsberry’s willingness to reach out to Jenkins at that point in time was most impressive because it signified her shift from the silent-leader type.
“I was surprised to get it that night,” Jenkins said of Alsberry’s text, “because I felt like when we left the school that night, she was obviously disappointed. We were disappointed. And I felt like she probably felt like maybe we were mad at her for the way that night ended. So, to get it that night says a lot about who she is. After I got it, I sat there just sort of stunned because it really makes you understand who she is as a person. To do that, to know that this is my team, I’m one of the captains, I’m one of the leaders, and we’re struggling right now, I need to reach out to him and let’s talk, I mean that’s pretty strong.”
It was a critical moment in Alsberry’s development because it showed her what Jenkins said he wasn’t sure Alsberry realized: that her teammates looked to her for guidance.
“It was hard,” Alsberry said of becoming a more vocal leader, “because I didn’t want to upset some of the girls, thinking I was being mean or kind of afraid to voice my opinion because I didn’t want to come off in the wrong way. When I just started doing it I realized it was OK to do it.”
It changed the way Alsberry played, too.
“She turned into a different player on the court,” Jenkins said. “In the games, you saw just a complete effort. It was just a different person. I think she started taking pride in her defense and what she can do on the defensive end as far as getting steals, turning those steals into transition points. She attacked the basket better. Any time anybody got close to the lane, between her and (fellow 6-foot-3 junior Christyan Reid) it was a good chance it was gonna get blocked. I think she took pride on the defensive end and it really paid off for us.”
Alsberry, like the rest of the Rams, was left wondering “what if?” after the state quarterfinal loss. But she said the desire to get back to that point, and beyond, is greater for it, and a Strasburg team that loses only two seniors will be shooting for a second straight state tournament appearance next season.
“Just make sure everyone’s coming to open gyms and try to get to camps and keep the bond together because we don’t want to have a slow start next season,” Alsberry said of where the Rams go from here. “We just want to go for it. So I think just that, and remember how good we can play, and not have that losing streak again because we know that we can play good.”