Who will take the best shot at the Vikings this time?
The girls basketball season is upon us, and with it the familiar sight of Mount Hebron, standing at the top of the hill, waiting to take on all challengers.
The Vikings are defending their 11th county championship in 13 years, their fifth state title in the past six, and they've got the county's best player in point guard Erica McCauley. They've also got coach Dave Greenberg, who enters his 14th season with a 266-54 record, including a 169-13 mark against the county. They promise another season of textbook, man-to-man defense and disciplined offense.
But theroad to the top won't be a breeze.
"I don't think it (winning a county title) is easy anymore," says Greenberg. "Hammond has got everybody back, Centennial has most of their people back, (coach) Craig (O'Connell) always does a great job at Howard, and Glenelg is always tough."
Here is a look at each team:
The Raiders, whowon just one county game and six overall last year, seek to erase their worst season since coach Graydon Webster's first year.
"We're excited about the season. I did a little rethinking about what I attempted to do last year," says Webster, who enters his ninth season. "I'm cracking the whip a little more. They're more
Webster will no doubt feel more energetic if the Raiders first improve on last year's 29 percent shooting. The key is 5-foot-7 junior point guard Allison Valentino (nine points a game), a third-year starter who is already established as a ballhandler, but must contribute more scoring. She scored 56 in two scrimmages.
Valentino's backcourt partner, 5-5 senior Vanessa Clack, should also keep the Raiders respectable. An excellent passer, ballhandler and a hustler on defense, Clackbroke her wrist in the fifth game and missed the rest of last season.
First-year coach Beth Brown, a three-year assistant to former coach Larry Kinsey, inherits a team on the rise. The Eagles are led by three returning starters, each of whom is starting for the third straight season.
"I have the roots, now I need some trees," says Brown, referring to Centennial's lack of height. "But our strength is in the middle with Shannon."
One player not lacking height is 6-0 junior forward Shannon Saltzman, who improved last year andmust lead the inside game. She is the lone returning starter up front. Junior Tiffany Bowers, a 5-7 forward, will probably start.
The Eagles will also look to their returning backcourt, beginning with 5-8 senior Becky Joeckel (9.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.9 steals), one ofthe school's top athletes. Junior 5-6 point guard Kelli Butler (5.9 points, 3.4 assists) has progressed nicely as a floor leader.
Depth is a question mark. Junior 5-7 guard Laura Taneyhill, who played sparingly last year, will start.
The Eagles are off to a shaky start. Joeckel and Butler are trying to overcome preseason ankle injuries.
Coach Chuck Struhar, who stepped down three years ago after coaching the Gladiators for 13 successful seasons, is back on the bench. And the Gladiators have the talent, combined with Struhar'steaching and passion for defense, that should keep them where they usually end up -- in contention for a county title.
"We're not going to set the world on fire, but we're never going to dog it," says Struhar, who promises lots of full-court defensive pressure and an offense that will run and pound the ball inside.
His plan is centered on 5-6 senior point guard Tanissa Dorsey, one of three returning starters and a third-year starter. On her good nights, the speedy Dorsey (10 points, seven rebounds, five steals a game) looks like the best player in the league.
Senior 5-8 guards Jen Leedom (five points) and Sarah Jones (eight points, six rebounds) also return. Leedom is oneof the league's top pure defensive players. Jones combines tenacity inside with a strong jump shot outside.
Junior 5-10 forwards Debbie Snyder and Dana Hoffman, reserves last year, will start and dictatelargely how far Glenelg goes. "Debbie is a tough player inside. Danamight be the most improved player in the county," says Struhar.
The Golden Bears look like the team most likely to challenge Mount Hebron, although they are still coming off a 6-8 season against the county. The reasons for Hammond's optimism? Athletes, athletes, athletes, and a good deal of skills, to boot.
"I think we're just as good as anybody in the county, flat out. Hebron included," says sixth-year coach Joe Russo. "We're walking out on the floor very confident."
Russo is especially confident in his excellent, returning one-two punch -- 5-6 sophomore point guard Kacey Williams and 5-9 sophomore forward Sonia Keiner.
Williams, whose unselfishness compliments her shooting, ball-handling and defensive skills, might be the county's second-best player behind Hebron's Erica McCauley. Williams averaged 10.6 points, five rebounds, five assists and five steals lastyear. Keiner (10.5 points, nine rebounds) is a workhorse inside.