Quantico | February 19, 2019
On the first day of Quantico High School’s practice, Jessie Blaine noticed Sarah Spencer struggling to box out and properly time her jumps in rebounding the basketball. Blaine believed Spencer had potential but lacked confidence and technique.
So the 16-year-old sophomore proposed a solution: If Spencer was open to assistance, Blaine offered to spend extra practice time with the incoming freshman.
Spencer couldn’t say yes fast enough. This was Jessie Blaine after all, the Auburn softball commitment here for one year as her father Brian attended a master’s program at Marine Corps University.
Other high schools might feature a steady flow of Division I prospects. But not Quantico.
The Marine Corps-base school of 126 students rarely if ever attracts someone with Blaine’s athletic pedigree. Families transfer in and out and schools off base offer more competitive programs.
Blaine though, is the exception among the 71 boys and 55 girls and she embraced this challenge with gusto, even if only for a single season with girls in some cases two years older than her.
Unlike her time on the travel-softball team circuit where she competes with and against players all over the country with similar skill sets, Quantico’s 12-member varsity squad featured five girls who had never played organized basketball before and two others who are freshmen.
It was a perfect match.
They needed her experience and guidance. And Blaine wanted to lead a team.
“In a situation where my athleticism is at a different level, this is an opportunity to help the team and instill in them confidence,” Blaine said. “It was important that everyone got better.”
The 5-foot-10 Blaine won the opening tip against St. Michael the Archangel to start a Feb. 7 home game and quickly assumed her role as the best player on the court.
After St. Michael recorded the first basket, Blaine evened the game on a left-handed layup. She blocked St. Michael’s next attempt and then caused a turnover on the team’s following possession.
“Don’t let her get it,” the St. Michael coach exhorted his team to no avail.
She assisted a teammate on a jump shot and then scored off an offensive rebound. At the end of the first quarter, Blaine had six points and Quantico led 14-4. Another typical performance by Blaine was underway.
The tallest player on either team, she ran the point and drove to the basket with equal ease, able to score a layup with either hand. She fed her teammates with spot-on passes and controlled the paint with her physical play. She encouraged and instructed, offering a smile and a hand slap to acknowledge her teammates’ efforts.
As Quantico extended its lead against a team with only two victories (one via forfeit) and seven girls on the roster, Blaine sat on the bench for a good part of the game but still scored 23 points in the 42-12 victory. It was nothing new.
For the most part, the Warriors are on cruise control with Blaine at the helm. They win by an average of almost 20 points a game with Blaine (28.4 points a game) accounting for almost 60 percent of Quantico’s offensive production.
There are exceptions. Blaine stays in for the entire game if the score is close like the two matchups against Massanutten Military Academy when she recorded 45 and then 65 points. Or the two-point win over Randolph-Macon Academy when she scored 20 of the Warriors’ 38 points.
Then there was the Tandem Friends game from Dec. 18. Blaine missed that contest after receiving two technicals four days earlier against Fredericksburg Academy.
Blaine and Warriors head coach Paul Roy remain unclear why Blaine was assessed either technical. Roy said he believes Blaine picked up her first technical after unintentionally hitting an opposing player with her elbow while pivoting with the ball. The second? Roy has no idea. When the first whistle blew, Roy said he thought officials were calling the opposing player for a foul. But then another official blew his whistle and all three met at center court.
Following the discussion, they assessed Blaine a second technical, which carried an automatic ejection.
Roy was livid. He picked up only the second technical in his six years coaching Quantico girls basketball after protesting the call. Following the game, Roy said he did something he’s never done in 35 years of coaching baseball, football and basketball: express his displeasure about an officiating crew to the officiating organization.
Roy also contacted Delaney Athletic Conference president Gary Leake to look into the matter. Leake reached out to the Fredericksburg Academy athletic director and asked him to review his scorebook from the girls game. Fredericksburg Academy, which hosted the game, listed two technicals for Blaine as did Quantico’s scorebook just to make sure there was no inconsistency.
Procedure was also followed when technical fouls are called. Fredericksburg Academy shot the requisite two free-throws and regained possession of the ball. Roy considered appealing Blaine’s ejection, but Leake informed him the decision could not be over overturned based on the information in both scorebooks and the unavailability of game film.
Roy abided by the DAC/VISAA policy that players who receive two technicals must sit down the next game.
With Blaine unavailable for Tandem Friends, the Warriors lost their only game this season, a 43-26 defeat to a DAC Division 2 opponent no less.
“Gut wrenching,” Blaine said in describing her feelings about watching from the bench.
When Roy sees Blaine play, he shakes his head and can’t believe she’s here. But her parents had no plans to send her elsewhere. Since her father is only stationed at Quantico for a year, it made sense for Blaine and her two younger sisters to attend base schools while living in base housing.
“She has been extremely instrumental in the success of our basketball team,” said Roy, who considers Blaine the best female athlete he’s seen in his 19 years at the school. “She will move on in a few months but we will all have enjoyed the leadership, teamwork and skills that she brought to our team.”
News of Blaine’s arrival spread quickly. When she enrolled at Quantico in mid-August and told the guidance counselor her name, the counselor said she already knew her through Google.
After Roy heard from some of his students about Blaine, he had one thought.
“I said to myself here we go again. We have another supposedly super athlete enrolling in school that will turn out again to be average at best,” Roy said.
Curious about Blaine’s background, he researched her online. He discovered she was the real deal. She was so good, in fact, that FloSoftball rated Blaine the No. 1 catcher in the nation for the class of 2021.
When Roy heard she was going to play basketball at Quantico, he was more intrigued.
“Needless to say I was pleasantly surprised with her leadership abilities and her skill set,” Roy said.
Blaine knew Quantico’s girls team was inexperienced after talking with members of the school’s boys basketball players ahead of time. But she never wavered in her desire to play and help where needed.
“It presented a new opportunity to lead a new team,” Blaine said.
Blaine’s athletic prowess starts with her family and the list is a long one.
Her maternal grandfather, Ron Martin, scored over 1,000 points in basketball at St. Dominic High School near St. Louis before going on to play basketball at St. Louis Baptist Junior College and then baseball for two years at Central Methodist College.
Blaine’s mother DJ also scored over 1,000 points in high school before playing basketball at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Her father Brian played football, basketball, baseball and track in high school and football for the All-Marine Corps team. Brian’s father Ernest played football at Mississippi Delta Community College. Blaine’s aunt Amy played college soccer for Kirksville and Blaine’s cousin Brady Cook committed to Missouri last fall as a quarterback.
Blaine’s internal drive comes in all forms, whether in the classroom, where she carries a 4.0, in arm wrestling or in Canton, a board game the family started playing over Christmas break. She welcomes all challengers. Even her training regimen is intense. She squats 270 pounds, bench presses 165 and squat cleans 185.
Growing up in a military family has also shaped her. Since her father was commissioned as an officer in 2004, the family has moved 10 times. This is the Blaines’ fourth stop at Quantico.
“It’s a new situation,” Blaine said. “There was nothing to adapt from. This is it.”
Raised on the principle of putting others first, Blaine never seeks the spotlight. She realizes Quantico needs her to score for them to win and humbly accepts that role. But her main goal is raising her teammates’ level of play. Roy is grateful for Blaine’s willing to step in as a second coach.
“I let her go,” Roy said. “I don’t stifle her initiative. She’s saying what I’m saying and it means more coming from her.”
MAKING AN IMPACT
On Jan. 31 against Fredericksburg Academy, senior Anika Davis approached the free-throw line in the fourth quarter.
At that point the Warriors led by a wide enough margin that Blaine was on the bench. But as Davis prepared to shoot, Blaine bubbled up with anticipation over how far Davis had come since the beginning of the season when she could barely do a layup. Blaine worked with Davis on her form and now here she was on the verge of something memorable: Attempting to score her first-ever point.
Davis, who had never played organized basketball before this season, missed the first free-throw but swished the second. Blaine joined her teammates with a celebratory jump and screamed as loud as she could. Davis recognized Blaine’s voice without even looking over at the bench.
“You knew it was her cheering,” Davis said.
Blaine’s basketball season more than likely ends this week with the four-team DAC Division 2 Tournament. No. 2 seeded Quantico hosts a semifinal Thursday. If the Warriors win, they advance to the final Saturday at 2 p.m. at Highland in Warrenton, where they will have the chance to capture their first-ever conference tournament title.
Although Quantico is 14-1, it may not have enough points based on strength of schedule to qualify for the 12-team Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association Division 3 state tournament. With a small and typically inexperienced team, Roy must line up games against teams with similar makeup. Still, Blaine will be eligible for all-state consideration and is the clear frontrunner to win conference player of the year honors.
The conference tournament also means Blaine is done playing at Quantico in any sport. On March 9-10, she begins her next athletic endeavor when travel-team softball gets underway. The demands of participating with a Georgia-based program will prevent Blaine from playing softball at Quantico.
So she’s soaking up this time as much as she can, cherishing every memorable moment. And there are many from Sarah Spencer grabbing 10 rebounds in a game to Davis’ historic free throw.
“To watch someone score their first point and to help them accomplish that, I’ve never felt that sense of pride,” Blaine said.