Princess Anne’s Danyael Goodhope slipped her hand through Chaynae Wiley’s dribble for a steal, immediately looked down the court and swung an outlet pass to a wide-open, streaking Gadiva Hubbard for an easy layup.
Instead of racing back after scoring, Hubbard turned around and pressured Landstown’s ensuing in-bounds pass. Edley Drawhorn intercepted the overhead throw and without hesitating found Goodhope for an uncontested jumper.
In seconds, Princess Anne turned two turnovers into simple baskets, seemingly on instinct.
Flashes like that highlight the defense that fuels Princess Anne, a team that is trying to make history this season by becoming the first team in Virginia’s largest classes to win three consecutive state basketball championships. The Cavaliers, who play in 5A, have already set the state record for consecutive appearances in the state title game, with seven.
This year the girls have outscored their opponents by an average of 63 points a game en route to a 6-0 record.
Sparked by one defensive highlight after another, Princess Anne turned an eight-point halftime lead against Landstown to a 30-point blowout in eight minutes. The Cavaliers beat the Eagles by 31 points.
Coach Darnell Dozier has four starters back from last year’s run, two of whom also started in 2013-14. His teams outscored opponents by an average of 38 points per game in its last two championship seasons. Though it’s early, this year’s team is on pace to shatter that number.
Dozier’s group doesn’t concern itself with gaudy statistics, however. Their focus is on winning games, especially the one at the end of the season.
“My expectation is that we win it all,” Dozier said. “I got seven seniors — it’d be a lost year if we didn’t.”
Those familiar with Dozier and his program know he’s not exaggerating. In his 21 seasons coaching Princess Anne, Dozier has five state titles, three state runner-up finishes and a number of players who went on to play college ball.
Defense has been the common denominator for his teams, and this year’s squad is no different.
The Cavaliers impress not just with the number of turnovers they force but with how many different ways they force them. They cause backcourt and inbound violations, pressure opponents into poor decisions, trap corners, cut off passing lanes — you name it, they’ll force it.
“They’re relentless, they’re real physical, and they give it to you for 32 minutes,” Landstown coach Victor Rosado said. “You may slow them up for a little bit, but they’re real strong real, athletic, and they’re a real seasoned team that can beat you in different ways.”
Goodhope, a senior point guard who will play at Winthrop University, says Dozier motivates players to get more excited about a steal that leads to a fast-break than about scoring a bucket. Practice is a non-stop session dedicated to perfecting defensive schemes and carrying the intensity into scrimmages.
“They’ll say, ‘Coach, the game is easier than practice,'” Dozier said. “And that’s what you want to hear as a coach.”
Hubbard, a senior guard who will play at the University of Minnesota, said she came in as a freshman with scoring as her priority. That changed after her first practice with Dozier.
“Once you learn that you play ‘D’ first, then shots will come, it makes the game so much easier,” Hubbard said. “And you get to stay on the floor longer because Coach cares about defense more than offense.”
That falls in line with Dozier’s team motto: “No defense, no play time.”
“You don’t have to score every night to be a great player,” Dozier said. “You can play great ‘D,’ pass the ball, don’t turn the ball over, and you’re just as good as the player that scored 30 points.”
It might seem odd to label a high school team that averages 90 points a game as “defense-first,” but it’s true for the Cavaliers.
Unfortunately for opponents, Princess Anne excels in other areas of the game, too. Their fast-break and half-court offense is just as effective.
Landstown’s Rosado respects the Cavaliers’ transition offense so much that when one of his players was shooting free throws, he had his other four players on the other end of the court to prevent an easy Princess Anne basket.
On offense, the Cavaliers show patience and discipline. Smart decisions and selfless ball movement leads to open shooters and easier shots.
The starting senior core of Hubbard, Goodhope, Drawhorn and Payton Turner have developed a chemistry. Each has her own niche. They enjoy playing for a coach who has built an empire that expects and demands success.
“Going to states is everything I look forward to,” Goodhope said. “It makes you want to work that much harder because you know how much you want to get there and win it.”
All that success presents its own challenge.
“Everybody’s playing us harder than they play anybody else,” Hubbard said. “And that’s exciting.”
Hubbard said the Cavaliers’ largest obstacle to making history is mentally blocking out the hype and never taking an opponent for granted.
That mentality starts at the top.
“You can’t automatically take the floor with Princess Anne written across your chest and think you’ll win,” Dozier said. “Anything can happen come playoff time. Teams can sneak up on you.”
With playoffs still two months away, Princess Anne will continue trying to improve.
“We have to stick with our tradition,” Goodhope said. “We win because of defense. We know what our goal is and we know we have to stay humble to get there.”
Have a story idea or news tip for sports? Contact Joe Saade at Joe@SouthsideDaily.com or 603-275-2040 (cell). Follow our sports coverage on Twitter — @SouthsideTeams — and sign up for our free morning newsletter.