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A debate rages on among sports fans over the merits of suffering a regular-season loss versus pursuing an undefeated season. The Oakton High School girls' basketball team found out just how difficult it is to achieve perfection last season, winning its first 30 games before falling in the Virginia AAA state final.
In 2009-2010, however, the Cougars took a loss early in their campaign -- 46-42 to Robinson on Jan. 15 -- and the returns have been nothing but positive thus far. Oakton rebounded from that defeat with a 74-39 win over Centreville and followed that up with a hard-fought 66-59 victory over Westfield on Friday night.
"I think we were getting a little bit too comfortable with our No. 1 ranking," said Cougars sophomore Caroline Coyer, who scored a game-high 22 points in Friday's win over the Bulldogs. "We were kind of going off our status from last year. It was a wake-up call.
"This is a new team, and we've got to come out to play every single game because everyone is gunning for us. I think it actually is going to end up helping us in the long run."
Oakton coach Fred Priester agreed that dropping a game early may help his team as the season progresses.
"A couple times last year we thought if we lost one, it wouldn't be the end of the world," Priester admitted. "It's great to learn lessons while you're winning, but sometimes you do have to lose to learn some bigger lessons. We'll see in a couple weeks if we can look back and say that the Robinson loss was a positive thing for us."
While one hiccup seems to be having a positive impact on Oakton, a second loss in a week's time would have been very detrimental, and that was exactly what the Cougars were facing at halftime Friday night.
Westfield used swarming defense to spark an 18-7 run in the second quarter and take a 24-22 lead into the locker room. Coyer and her teammates knew that if they did not respond in the second half, their season would be in jeopardy.
"This is a big win not just because it's Westfield, but because if we had lost, who knows where we would've gone from there," she said. "This is a big win to get our confidence back and get us back in the right direction."
Oakton (14-1, 4-1 Concorde District) responded in a big way, with Caroline Coyer, sister Katherine Coyer, and Zora Stephenson combining to score 41 of the Cougars' 44 points after halftime. Priester called Stephenson's performance the "best all-around game that she's had since she's been at Oakton." The junior finished with 19 points, scoring on the inside as well as with her outside shot.
While Friday's loss was disappointing for Westfield (13-3, 4-1), there was one bright spot for the Bulldogs: Senior Shelby Romine scored 22 points and became just the second player in team history to eclipse the 1,000-point mark for her career. The first to accomplish the feat was MaryLynne Schaefer, who went on to play at the University of Hartford and now is playing professionally in Germany.
"That's a pretty amazing accomplishment for her," Westfield coach Pat Deegan said of Romine. "I think she scored like 60 points her freshman year. She's worked very, very hard over the last three years to become a scoring point guard. She's a complete player. I was pleased for her."
With a scorer like Romine and tough team defense, Priester has little doubt that Westfield will be a likely opponent for Oakton come playoff time.
"We're going to see these guys again [in our regular-season finale], and likely somewhere in the district tournament," he said. "This is just the first salvo, so to speak."