MORGANTOWN — It was all about who was the toughest between two of the most gritty and physical prep girls' basketball programs in the state of West Virginia on Thursday night as Class AAA No. 10 University High hosted Class AA No. 5 Fairmont Senior in a marquee matchup.
With a pair of upper-echelon programs battling for late-season supremacy and momentum, it was almost guaranteed that the game would be quite the intense affair, and the action on the hardwood proved no different.
The physicality and toughness the two foes brought to the floor was exemplified by each team's standout player — University senior Ashten Boggs and Fairmont Senior sophomore Marley Washenitz. The two opponents found themselves guarding each other often as the night wore on, drawing one another into a grueling battle between athletes who are accustomed to helping carry their teams through high-pressure scenarios.
But by the sound of the final buzzer, Boggs' experience and focus helped her overpower Washenitz and the Polar Bears as she dominated every facet of the game. Boggs tallied 38 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, and four steals to help lead the Hawks past Fairmont in a 67-56 victory.
"It's my senior year, and I really don't want this to end. I know the season is close to coming to an end, so I've just got to put this team on my back. I love this team and I'd do anything for it. I just want to help get us the win," Boggs said.
"She's a very good player — she's really long, she's athletic, and she has very good backdoor cuts to the basket. She's very physical, which adds to her game, and she can shoot it, she can drive, but she just makes incredible shots," Washenitz said.
While Washenitz often uses her aggressive, in-your-face play to her advantage, it ended up playing a role in her and her team’s downfall against University. Washenitz ended up in foul trouble early, and drew her third foul by the halftime break and her fourth under a minute into the final frame of play.
On a night where the Polar Bears were struggling to match their opponents’ aggressiveness on the defensive end and shots weren’t seeming to fall too easily, Washenitz accounted for a large chunk of her team’s scoring and defensive energy. She finished the night with 25 points, seven rebounds, five assists, and five steals, and for a majority of the game, was the contributor for over half of Fairmont’s points. So when she tallied her fourth foul, Fairmont Senior head coach Corey Hines chose to leave Washenitz on the floor.
But it was clear Washenitz wasn’t able to play all-out on defense without risking fouling out, which allowed Boggs more opportunities to make plays late and gave her the opening to attempt to continue and bring Washenitz out of her game. Eventually, Washenitz would have to fouled Boggs and sent her to the line while Fairmont Senior trailed late, ending her evening prematurely.
“That’s for everyone — when I’m in foul trouble, they tell me I can’t be as aggressive on defense. But she played smart defense, she was still up in my grill without getting her hands everywhere. But I took advantage of her being in foul trouble and I attacked the rim a lot, and the other players on my team recognized that,” Boggs said.
"They’re really aggressive and physical, and they’re a big team. They have big guards and big post, so I had to apply pressure and down the stretch I got in foul trouble, and I had to back off a little bit. I still tried to give it my all,” Washenitz said.
Perhaps it was when Boggs attacked the rim as she described that she displayed the theme of toughness the most during the game, as she earned nine trips to the charity stripe and converted 17-of-18 free throw attempts — crucial points in a game that was within single digits for much of the night.
“My free throw shooting comes pretty much effortlessly because I work on it so much. I have a really bad problem with my arch, so my coaches really tell me to arch the ball. If I just arch the ball then I’m really confident in my free throw shooting — that’s why I’m the one who always wants the ball at the end of the game, because I know I can make the free throws,” Boggs said.
The Hawks held the lead for much of the night, at one point they extended their lead to 13 points late in the second period. The Polar Bears went on a 9-0 run powered by a pair of Marley Washenitz three-pointers. Washenitz converted five field goals from behind-the-arc — to narrow the gap to four, but would allow a pair of unanswered University baskets before the break and entered halftime trailing 34-26.
The Polar Bears would chip into the lead intermittently in the second half, but would never close the gap enough to fully put themselves in a position to come out victorious. In a night that centered around the tenacity and fortitude of two Top 10 programs, Hines felt as if his team wasn’t able to match what the Hawks brought in terms of mentality. Combined with the lengthy and physical defense of University limiting Fairmont’ Seniors offensive production, it proved too much to overcome.
“You’re not going to make a lot of your J’s, but what you can do is play better defense on the other side. When we did play great defense we were in striking distance, but when you give up on defensive situations and ball movement, it’s tough. When you play a team that is that physical, you have to be able to match-up to their physicality and toughness. I think we have the players, but we didn’t have that mentality,” Hines said.