Working hard and doing the little things to make the team better are qualities that have long been the defining features of women’s basketball forward Jess Washington (Chesapeake, Va./Great Bridge).
In the team’s last contest with Bridgewater College, Washington finished with career highs of 21 points and 20 rebounds en route to her fourth consecutive double double. In another recent key ODAC matchup, she scored 11 points and grabbed 13 boards in a 60-54 win over Randolph-Macon.
“It was a great feeling to come up with a win,” Washington said. “It wouldn’t have been accomplished if it wasn’t for my teammates and my coaches’ guidance believing in us to get the job done.”
Largely due to her natural athleticism, Washington bases her game on speed and quickness. More times than not, she finds herself matched up with players who rely more on their height and size.
“The challenge for me is on the defensive end because my opponents are sometimes physically bigger than me,” she said. “This makes it harder for me to maneuver myself and get in a position without fouling.”
In order to keep her strengths at the forefront of the speed versus height mismatches, Washington relies on mental toughness. At practice, she works on post moves so that she can finish strong with contact and finish with an and-one.
“She’s learning each day how to be a post player and use her God-given abilities of speed and quickness in doing so,” head coach Kevin Griffin said. “I think her real strength is the ability to play hard for extended minutes. Where I think other people might get tired, she can continue to push.”
Washington is averaging 26.5 minutes per game this season overall and 31.0 minutes in conference games.
Eastern Mennonite is currently tied for second with R-MC and Guilford College in the ODAC standings, each with a 5-2 conference record. Guilford happens to be EMU’s next opponent, with a big matchup Saturday in Greensboro, N.C.
Washington said the resiliency of her team has made their success possible.
“Despite some things not going our way, we still manage to persevere and fight through the adversity to get where we are,” she said. “Our program will continue to be successful because of that.”
With 15 games played and nine to go, EMU’s women continue to find their groove and are at a good spot at 10-5 overall.
“By taking it game by game and practice by practice, we’re able to focus on the little details,” she said. “We lift each other up and push one another to get better, and our motivation is to finish and finish well.”
Griffin echoed his player’s sentiments.
“As a coaching staff, we try to encourage the women that we’re going to show up one day at a time. We know that the light is at the end of the tunnel with the limited number of practices left,” he said. “We’re asking them to be present while we’re together. Mentally, physically, and emotionally.”
Along with being present in games and practice, the team has also adjusted to new players and personnel.
On a team made up of six upperclassmen and 14 underclassmen, the transition into season took time for each player to evaluate their role and what that means for the team.
“We came into this season as a young team with a large roster; however, we’ve been steadily putting the pieces together and figuring out what works best,” Washington said.
In the last four games, Washington averaged 14.3 points per game. On the season, she averages 11.5 points, up more than four points per game from last year.
“She just brings an energy, whether it’s in practice or games, that the team needs,” Griffin said. “Her ability to play with energy is a real strength for us.”
Off the court, Washington is an elementary education major, and hopes to teach either first or second grade after graduating from EMU.
“I also see coaching in the future, which would allow me to give back to the community that once helped me,” she said.