Basketball Program Reinvents Itself, Battles For Elusive Winning Season
A strong sophomore class led by Joelle Barksdale, Sophie Whitaker, Paul Joire (top left) and Chidiire Nwokwu (top right) have headlined a great basketball season / Credits: Sports Information Club
It is fair to say that basketball hasn’t historically been one of the strongest sports at School Without Walls. In fact, neither the girls’ nor boys’ teams have a winning season on record in MaxPreps, the score-reporting site used by the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association (DCIAA). But this year things feel different. The boys are off to a 7-5 start, and the girls aren’t too far behind at 5-5.
Historically, the girls team has not just struggled to win games — they've struggled to field a team. Point guard Erin Pollack (‘23) explained that in her freshman year, the team “only had eight girls, most of whom had never played basketball before.” She credited her fellow seniors Price Burton and Charlotte Beers with working to maintain the team and turn it around through COVID. Their work resulted in a 20-player-strong 2021-22 squad. That season they went 6-10 — not eye-popping, but the girls’ best record in over a decade.
This year, the team has continued their upward trend. Pollack attributed a lot of the improvement to being “able to gel together as a team” last year. She said that difficult practice arrangements, including evening practices at Francis-Stevens and sharing a court with the boys, have only brought the team closer.
Pollack praised a trio of sophomores, Joelle Barksdale, Sophie Whitaker, and Joyce Kao, for bringing in big points. Kao in particular has taken a big step up this year, averaging 9.1 rebounds per game along with 3.1 steals. This comes as a dramatic change for the forward who averaged 4.1 and 0.9 last year, respectively.
Sophomores, particularly Chidiire Nwokwu and Paul Joire, have similarly powered the boys’ team. Elijah Lott (‘25) has also played a significant role, leading the team in rebounds per game with 7.4. Max Stacey, also a sophomore, has become a regular starter on the team, sometimes playing over 25 of the game’s 32 minutes.
Julius Cohen (‘23) pointed out that the junior varsity team is receiving a lot more care than in past years, and there are a solid number of freshmen invested in the program.
Cohen observed significant change from even last year’s team. “Last year we had good players and they made good plays, but we didn’t play as one unit [as we have this season],” he said. This selfless style of play has resulted in a team that’s constantly getting open shots, shooting over 40 percent from the field and over 30 percent from three. Cohen praised the team’s coach, “Coach Dee,” for her commitment to the team and effort to understand each of her players.
This season seems to have a sort of magic to it; the boys have won four of their games by 3 points or fewer, including a miraculous 3 point buzzer beater against Eastern by senior Eliav Brooks-Rubin. The magic won’t be easy to maintain, though, as the two teams’ remaining games feature some tough matchups against Jackson-Reed, Dunbar, and Anacostia.
Regardless, students are hopeful. “I think that the future of Walls basketball is very bright,” commented Paul Joire (‘25). Both the boys and girls are built around young cores — Joire and other star sophomores like Chidiire Nwokwu, Sophie Whttaker, and Joelle Barksdale have two remaining seasons to improve. With a newfound team culture and freshmen waiting in the wings, Walls’ once struggling basketball program could soon be a real contender in the DCIAA.