(Terrance Williams/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Hand in hand, the Sidwell Friends players and coaches lined up at the edge of the hotel pool. Backs straight and faces giddy, the Quakers were ready to lift off.

The Quakers, long a middle-tier program in the D.C. area, took a massive leap in 2021-22, rolling to a perfect regular season, a conference title and a state championship. And on Saturday morning, coach Tamika Dudley’s team added one last piece of hardware to its collection, defeating Lake Highland Prep 50-39 in the inaugural State Champions Invitational (SCI) national title game after trouncing Centennial (Las Vegas) in the semifinal, 63-30.

When the Quakers returned to their Tampa hotel after the championship, around 1 p.m., their first stop was the pool. The players were still in their white jerseys; the coaches in their slacks and polos. Against a crystal blue sky and a throng of palm trees, the team that vaulted into the nation’s upper echelon capped its season with one last, cathartic jump.

“We were just trying to win the (D.C. State Athletic Association) championship this year,” Dudley said. “I wasn’t even thinking this big.”

Dudley’s players forced her hand. Sidwell Friends announced itself on the national stage on Dec. 11 when it defeated DeSoto, a team from Texas with seven Division I commits, by 18 points. Senior guard Kiki Rice, who would go on to win JWS Player of the Year honors, recorded 17 points, 13 rebounds and four assists in the 54-36 victory, a harbinger of things to come.

With that win, the Quakers entered winter break with a 5-0 record. When they finally returned to the court about a month later, Dudley found a team with a special swagger. At the center of it all was Rice, a superlative all-around talent with a stubbornly great mindset.

“There’s nothing I hate more,” the UCLA signee said, “than losing.”

Her teammates shared that sentiment. Junior Jadyn Donovan, a 6-foot junior, was Rice’s right-hand partner, averaging 15.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game.

But it was Donovan’s defense that took center stage when it mattered most in the SCI, an alternative to GEICO Nationals for programs that had competed in state championships. (Montverde claimed the GEICO crown the previous weekend.)

Late in the final against Lake Highland, the Highlanders went on a bit of a run with a couple of 3-pointers. Dudley put Donovan on Lake Highland’s lead facilitator, and Donovan responded with a number of blocks despite the fact she was running on fumes.

“I swear, that court was bigger than any court I’d ever played on,” Donovan said.

Donovan, who finished with 15 points, 11 rebounds, six blocks and four steals, scored the Quakers’ last basket when Rice (10 points and seven rebounds) tossed her an alley-oop in transition from just past half-court in the game’s final minute.

That was the lone assist of the contest for Rice, who had some trouble getting into a rhythm offensively. In her stead, Dudley’s daughter, sophomore forward Kendall, poured in a game-high 18 points.

“The (defense) slept off Kendall,” the coach said. “I told Kendall she needed to take shots. … She attacked the basket and scored for us at all three levels.”

When the Quakers got back to D.C., one co-worker congratulated Dudley, but then offered a challenge: They wanted to see Sidwell Friends, which went 30-0, win another national championship next season, but to do so even “better.”

“I was like, ‘I don’t even know if we can do it better,’” Dudley said. “We checked every single box this season.”

The Quakers, of course, will be without Rice, the conductor of this championship orchestra. But Sidwell Friends has a couple of tantalizing incoming transfers, and the team will retain much of its core with Donovan, rising junior point guard Leah Harmon (who averaged a team-high 16 points per game) and Kendall Dudley.

Donovan trusts in the foundation Sidwell Friends laid this year, setting the team up for long-term success.

“We built this,” she said.

Josh Needelman is the High School Sports Editor at Just Women’s Sports. Follow him on Twitter @JoshNeedelman.