Mount Hebron High School's continuing stranglehold on the girls basketball scene remains one of the county's more enduring sports stories.
The Vikings have been denied county championships only twice in Coach Dave Greenberg's previous 12 years. Hebron, the defending county and state champions, blew through the league undefeated last year, when only Oakland Mills realistically stood in Greenberg's way.
This year, the conditions have altered significantly. Sure, Hebron is still unquestionably the team to beat, and Oakland Mills is backagain to nip at Hebron's heels. But the teams capable of springing an upset have grown. The Scorpions have more company in the Team-Most-Likely-To-Dump-Hebron Derby.
We'll begin at the top:
* The machine simply rolls on at Mount Hebron, where the 8-2 Vikings are back with another superb cast of role players. Hebron is known for its stifling man-to-man defense, but this year's team has quite an offensive punch. The Vikings are averaging 56 points a game and shooting 39 percent from the floor, both considerably higher than at this time last year.
The offense starts with sophomore point guard Erica McCauley, the 5-foot-2 redhead who overcame a back injury in time to star in last year's state playoffs. McCauley has been terrific in the first month, averaging 15.9 points, 4.6 assists and 4.1 steals, while shooting 49 percent from the floor and 40 percent from three-point range. She leads the team in each category. In addition, she is averaging just 2.7 turnovers a game.
From there, Hebron has five players -- guards Cescili Drake, Christy McCauley and Emily Yanero and forwards Andrea Day and Kris Bryant -- averaging between five and eight points a game.
Defensively, Day (6.5 rebounds) and Bryant (4.7 rebounds) anchor the boards along with Sandra Benson, who is excellent off the bench. Christy McCauley is also a strong rebounder (5.4). As a unit, the Vikings' man-to-man alignment still has no peer in the county.
The Vikings look too well-rounded to be beaten, at least out of a county title.
* Conventional wisdom says the team most likely to drop Hebron is Oakland Mills. The Scorpions gave Hebron its toughest challenge last year. They've returned four strong starters, marched to a 10-0 record by an average winning margin of 36 points and have only been held under 60 points twice going into Friday night's matchup withHebron (see story).
Weak schedule or not -- and Oakland Mills' calendar has been littered with patsies -- the Scorpions are impressive.
Once again, their vicious full-court press sets the tone with guard Mia Dammen at the controls. She's averaging an astounding 15 steals a game, which lead to many layups and account largely for her 18.8point, seven-assist averages. Dammen has also cut down on her fouls,which limited her playing time to about 16 minutes a game last year.She's fouled out just once, and is averaging close to 24 minutes a game.
Guard Stephanie Magro gives opposing ball-handlers another headache, and is averaging 10.8 points. Of the two, Magro is the betteroutside shooter and ball-handler.
The team's more underrated players -- forwards Andrea Romich (13 points) and Christine Copeland (12.5 points, 11.5 rebounds) -- might be the most important to Oakland Mills over the long haul. Copeland is probably the strongest inside force in the league. Romich, a good rebounder with a polished outside shot, is probably the team's best all-around player.
Despite their strengths, Oakland Mills looks more vulnerable than Hebron in what promises to be a more competitive county schedule than last year.
TheScorpions are not as deep or experienced as last year, when they could turn to strong bench players like Teah Wedlock or Erika Smith. They haven't replaced Shannon Grieve's outside shooting. If Dammen gets into foul trouble in a big game, it spells big trouble for Oakland Mills. The Scorpions also have yet to prove they can beat a strong opponent who forces a slower tempo on them. And there are teams capable of doing that in this league besides Hebron.
* Glenelg is a team that comes to mind. The Gladiators gave the Scorpions fits in both of their matchups last year before losing in the closing seconds of each game. This year, Glenelg is 7-2 because they are more skilled, more experienced and are showing excellent fundamentals.
Never mind the fact that Glenelg's shooters went stone-cold in the second half (5-for-29 from the floor) of last week's 42-37 loss to Howard. First-year coach Barb Wolf has this group headed in the right direction.
Forwards Leslie Service (10 points, five rebounds), Kristi Moore (six points, five rebounds) and Sarah Jones (six points, five rebounds) lead a solid frontcourt that plays smartly and unselfishly. Shannon McCartney is a strong rebounder off the bench.