In just their second season back in the Group AA Dulles District, the Loudoun Valley Vikings boys basketball team have already made a splash.
Valley won the Dulles District’s regular-season and tournament titles in its return to Group AA last winter after spending the previous six seasons in AAA. The Vikings also reached the Region II championship game and qualified for the state tournament.
With four returning starters and a year of experience back in the Dulles District, Valley looks to be even more dangerous than before.
“We’re trying to reassert ourselves back from AAA,” Valley coach Chad Dawson said.
At first glance, Valley looks like a team that would dominate inside the perimeter. Boasting 6-foot, 7-inch junior Paul Rowley, 6-6 senior Josh Grimard and 6-5 senior Jovon Miller in the starting five, the Vikings are a towering presence under the basket.
And while the Vikings are certainly a formidable force inside, they are equally potent from behind the arc, as evidenced by their eight 3-pointers in a 62-46 win over district stalwart Potomac Falls Dec. 14.
“We have big guys that can shoot the basketball. If we can keep the floor space, we’re a difficult match up,” Dawson said. “We present a lot of problems matching up in man because we have guys that can attack the basket and also shoot from outside. I think it’s one of our bigger assets.”
But Dawson and the Vikings strengths don’t just come from just their physicality; four of the five Valley starters this year started last season. Senior Cameron Kiani joins Grimard, Miller and Rowley as returning starters. Sophomore Dalton Smolens and junior Dakota DeLeonardis will also contribute significant minutes for the Vikings.
“They’re the ones that we’re going to rely on heavily for leadership and they’ve been doing a good job with that,” said Dawson of his returning starters.
Still, the Vikings have had to work to overcome the loss of John Yoxthimer, a 2011-2012 All-District and All-Region performer who holds school records for points in a game, career rebounds and career 3-pointers. Dawson said the absence of Yoxthimer has allowed his other players to step up.
“I think a little bit last year, because John was such a special player, our kids, because they share the ball so well, took the back seat,” Dawson said. “This year, what’s been nice is that all those guys are now asserting themselves on both sides of the court.”
The players insist that years of playing together have given them the biggest edge of all: chemistry.
“I trust every single one of these players, from number one, down to number 13,” Grimard said. “I know they have my back and they know I have their backs.”
This trust translates well onto the court, where players aren’t afraid to take critical shots.
“We put a lot of trust in our shooters,” Miller said. “We tell them to be ready to shoot at all times.”
While the Vikings, who won their first six games of the season, hope to replicate the successes of last season, they aren’t looking too far into the future.
When asked about the prospects for the season, Miller and Grimard answered in unison.
“We’re just taking it one game at a time.”
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