Injuries often decimate teams. Rarely do they ever help teams, but maybe the Meade boys basketball team is an exception.
After a season-opening 96-59 embarrassment at defending state 4A champion Annapolis on Dec. 5, Meade gradually picked up the pieces, fighting off injuries along the way, and has climbed to an overall 11-3 record.
The problems have ranged from an automobile accident that Brian George was involved in just before the season began -- which has kept him out all year -- to injuries such as basic pulled muscles, ankle and leg ailments.
What started as a disaster has turned into another typical winning season, with the Mustangs right in the hunt in 4A Region IV. Tonight at home at 7, the 'Stangs get their second shot at Annapolis and will find out how far they have come.
"We weren't ready for that first one," said veteran Meade coach Butch Young.
That's an understatement because rarely has a Meade team ever looked so helpless, although it was still in the game with about three minutes to go in the first half. It simply got run out of the gym in the second half.
The look on Young's face afterward that night told the story, but he seemed to be looking way down the road as he said, "It's going to take some time, but we'll be all right. Believe me, we're not this bad."
Coach Young was right, and you could have expected him to be because his is the voice of experience.
"Since then we have had a lot of injuries that actually helped us," said Young. "With the injuries, I've used a lot of different lineups, no one set lineup,and it has made us a deeper team."
Ron Hubbard, a 6-foot-4 seniorforward who is averaging 17 points a game, is the only Mustang to play all 14 games.
"That's basically how it has gone for us, and Ronhas done a great job," said Young. "It's a matter of me figuring outwho should play on a given night.
"Other than Ron, we don't have a bunch of guys with impressive stats. One guy will come out one night and have a great game and not so great the next game. So, it's a matter of me trying to figure out who I should play."
Hubbard is no doubt the bellwether of this senior-dominated squad, but after him the likes of fellow 12th-graders David Beck, Jason Thomas, Dorien Fullilove, Lance Taylor, Ray Somerville, Steve Mackey and Chris Botulinskihave led the way.
The senior leadership has had nothing short of a positive effect on such juniors as Brian Parker, Louis Morales and Ray Pierce.
It has become a team where everybody plays, and Young tries to put the hot hands on the floor at the right time.
In the past, Young, who is in his 14th year at Meade and 27th overall with acareer record of 334-178, has pretty much stuck to a set lineup.
The injuries have forced him to waiver from that strategy this year. Beck was out for a couple games with a bad back. Taylor had a sprained ankle. Mackey injured a leg in phys-ed class, and a series of pulled muscles shelved a couple other guys for a while.
"And like everyother school in the county, we had our share of the flu bug that kept a few guys out for a brief time," said Young.
Young feels that right now his club is 10 to 11 players deep, which almost always equals strength.
In the Class 4A Region IV race to the playoffs, where six out of 11 teams will qualify, Meade is right there in the runningfor the top seed with Annapolis, Old Mill and Broadneck. Since Christmas tournament games don't count toward the playoffs, Meade has three losses that do, while the other three contenders have two losses each.
Meade lost to Annapolis, but bounced back the very next game to nip Broadneck on the Bruins' home court, 45-42. The 'Stangs have split with Old Mill, but only one counts, the wrong one as far as Meadeis concerned.
Old Mill defeated Meade, 56-54, in the regular season, but the Patriots bowed in the Meade Christmas tournament final tothe 'Stangs, 71-68.
"Those games were strange," laughed Young. "We were down by 15 in the first one and ended up losing by two. They were down by 15 in the second game and ended up losing by three."
Meade gets Old Mill again on Feb. 8, and it will be at Meade. If anything right now, the schedule is in the Mustangs' favor. They have fourcritical games at home going down the stretch beginning with Annapolis tonight followed by Class 2A power Southern Tuesday, Old Mill and Broadneck (Feb. 15).
The other two big boys play each other tonight with Broadneck (11-2) visiting Old Mill (10-3).
"If we can take this one (Annapolis) we can make this thing real close," said Young. "But Annapolis is still the team to beat. We're certainly better (than we were when we started), and anybody could win it, but you have tosay Annapolis is the team to beat."
Are his players anxious and excited about getting another shot at Annapolis?
"Tell you the truth, right now it's just another game to them because they've been moreconcerned about exams this week and that's probably the case for Annapolis and everybody else," said Young.