State Champion runner-ups return for vengeance


Photo Courtesy of Brady Walsh

After losing the 2022 State Championship, the WCHS basketball team poses with the runner-up trophy with grim looks on their faces.

By Justin Greenzaid, Sports Editor

As the final buzzer sounds at the University of Maryland’s Xfinity Center, tears rush down the faces of fans and players alike. On one half of the court, the Eleanor Roosevelt HS basketball team celebrates their second consecutive Maryland 4A State Championship win. On the other half, WCHS players lay shocked on the court with their hands over their eyes. The date is March 12, 2022 and the Bulldogs just lost a brutal double overtime finale in their first State Championship appearance in over 40 years. 

This year the team looks a lot different, however the goal remains the same: win a state championship. The team will rely on critical roles from seniors Ezekiel Avit (a recent Maryland football commit), Isaiah Mbeng, and Wyatt Dunn; as Bryce Wilson and Andrew Silver both graduated and Tre Stott is no longer with the program after being deemed ineligible. Many role players including senior Ryan Calkins and juniors Melchi Jonah, Steve Ndigue and Nick Goldberg will also be looked upon to contribute to another championship run. The team is poised to make another deep playoff run this year, even though some critics are already ruling them out due to the departures of three starters from last year. 

“The loss in the state championship game last year really hurt but at the same time it motivated me to want to work so much harder because I never want to feel that way again,” Mbeng said. “I’m excited to continue the winning culture that we built last year as well as finally seeing the hard work that everyone has been putting in since last year finally be displayed in games.”

The team that lost the championship in 2022 had a lot of ups and downs, with a trivial setback being the brawl that took place on January 31 against Blake HS. The team still finished the season a distinguished 24-2 with one of those losses taking place in the championship. The Bulldogs now have a strong reputation in Montgomery County and many teams are marking WCHS as the team to beat all season long. 

The team’s first game of the season is at home on December 6 against Gaithersburg, which looks to be the Bulldog’s greatest challenge of the regular season. Overall, the county does not seem to hold much competition for the Bulldogs this season as BCC and Walter Johnson have both lost strong senior leaders. 

“Our team’s goal this year is to ultimately go undefeated and get what we lost last year. Our mindset has to be to take this season one game at a time to make it happen. Winning a state championship is more important than anything else but first we have to dominate our Moco competition in the regular season,” Dunn said. 

Not only does the team have talent once again this year, but they also have strong team chemistry built around returning starters. The team is close off the court when they are not battling it out in games and practices, which could be the difference maker in this season. 

“The team chemistry this year is really good. Everyone is friends off the court and that helps us trust each other more when we’re out there on the court together,” Mbeng said. “The leading factor that will make the team good this year is that we have so many people that can provide on both ends of the floor. Everyone on the team this year has a role and is willing to do whatever it takes to help the team win. This depth is what is going to help us take that next step.”

One of the most electrifying teams in the state, the team put on a show in every game last season. Whether it was a thrilling playoff matchup like the one in the state semi-final against Meade HS or a divisional blowout, the team knew how to entertain the crowd, consistently throwing down alley oops and hitting deep threes. 

“There’s definitely going to be a lot of fun this season. A lot of dunks this year, no doubt. I’m just really excited to get back out there with this squad and play in front of the Churchill crowd once again. I don’t feel like anyone in the county can really hang with us, we really just have 1 goal in mind,” Avit said. 

Over the summer, the team was a part of a highly competitive Capitol Hoops summer league which gave the Bulldogs strong private school competition that will better prepare them for stronger playoff caliber teams. Although the competition is much higher than what they will see in Montgomery County, the games were extremely valuable as playing this tougher competition helped the team improve. 

“We participated in a competitive summer league at DeMatha Catholic High school which has a lot of the best teams in the area, public or private. Being able to play against some of the top schools helped us understand the level of basketball we need to play to  be able to achieve our goal and win overall,” Mbeng said. 

As the team returned to school in the fall, they began team workouts as well. The team lifts during the week in the school’s weight room and plays basketball after. These workouts not only allow for the team to improve on the court but also helps improve team chemistry. Being able to play with each other months ahead of real competition is highly advantageous and helps the team begin to mesh. 

With over 20 games slated for this season’s schedule, there are plenty of opportunities to watch this electrifying program. The team is full of surprises on any given night and games are most definitely going to be a spectacle. Like all other WCHS sports, fan attendance is key to success. Having a large fanbase helps the team’s confidence and morale.

“I can’t wait to get back out on the court with my teammates playing in front of packed crowds again. The environment at WCHS is really good and is a lot of fun for us to play in front of.” Dunn said. “We’re going to continue to work extremely hard this whole season to win a state championship. We won’t be satisfied until then and for many of us returning guys the pain from last year still hurts.”