Not yet—that’s what this game will help decide. According to the Washington Post’s midseason rankings, the St. John’s Lady Cadets are number one in the region, a position Riverdale has held in the final rankings for the past two years. Because of an early-season loss to Archbishop Spalding, the Crusaders have fallen to fifth.
The school is expecting a standing-room-only turnout. They’ve added bleachers behind the end lines and carted in risers from the choir room. Fold-out chairs are jammed into corners. Halfway through the JV game, the gym is close to capacity. It practically shakes with excitement.
The Crusaders sit in a classroom eating a pregame meal of spaghetti, green beans, and carrots that Richardson brought from home. She has these meals down to a science: when and what the girls should eat and how much. She learned her lesson at a tournament a few years back after some of her players were rushed to the hospital with food poisoning from takeout Chinese.
Now face to face with the game they’ve been awaiting for months, the girls consider the stakes. It’s about more than just bragging rights and reclaiming what the Crusaders think is rightfully theirs. The Cadets are coming onto their turf, into their house, making the possibility of a loss—in front of their fans and parents, the reporters and cameras—all the more devastating.
As the JV game winds down, Nikki Lewis, one of the assistant coaches, ushers the players to the ice room for their pregame meeting. A light bulb flickers overhead, and the ice machine whirs every few minutes, making a loud tha-rump as it churns out fresh cubes. Lewis has placed a dozen chairs in a semicircle facing a whiteboard on which Sam Caldwell, Richardson’s second-in-command, writes the game strategy. He’s slow and meticulous, as if the outcome tonight might depend on his penmanship.
The girls file in, dressed in their white home uniforms, bubblegum-pink T-shirts, and sparkly high-tops. Nike sent new shoes and shirts for breast-cancer awareness, and Richardson asked each of her coaches to wear something pink, too.
In the quiet before the game, Caldwell takes them through the particulars—who will start, the plays they’ll run, the biggest threats on the St. John’s roster.
Then he takes a deep breath. The girls know what’s coming: a reading from Scripture, something Caldwell does before every game. But today he seems hesitant.
Next: "I know each and everyone one of you is ready to fight."