The county's girls basketball season begins Wednesday, leaving us with the same old question to ponder.
Who is going to beat Mount Hebron?
Anyone with an answer, please call me. This one has me stumped.
The Vikings, two-time defending 2A champions and the top-ranked team in the Baltimore metropolitan area, look poised to win their 12th county title in 14 seasons under coach Dave Greenberg. Another undefeated run through the league, followed by a third consecutive state title, would not be a surprise.
Hebron, off to a 6-1 start, has tunedup for a formidable county schedule with its best December ever. After splitting two games in the Strathaven (Pa.) Tournament, the Vikings knocked off top-ranked Western (Baltimore City), annihilated North Carroll by 50 points, then won the always-rough IABBO Tournament withthree victories, the last two over Springbrook (Montgomery County) and Old Mill (Anne Arundel) -- two teams that faced each other in the Class 4A final last year.
"We've had a hell of a schedule, and we've weathered it far beyond our expectations," Greenberg said.
Hebron heads into the county season holding all of the necessary cards. The Vikings are knee-deep in winning tradition, they refuse to rest ontheir reputation, and they possess typically outstanding talent. This year's team is averaging 57 points a game and boasts the state's best trio in guards Erica McCauley and Emily Yanero and forward Kris Bryant.
McCauley, last season's Co-Player of the Year, is the county's premier point guard and top player. She's averaging 13.7 points, 4.4 assists, 5.3 steals, and is committing only 2.7 turnovers per game. And no one will ever question McCauley's toughness after she overcame a severe case of bronchitis to win the MVP award at the IABBO tournament.
Yanero (15.4 points, 5.1 rebounds) was one of the county'stop freshmen last year. She announced her arrival this year with a 25-point performance against Western. She is shooting 54 percent. WithMcCauley getting her the ball, Yanero will have some huge nights.
Bryant (14.4 points, 12.1 rebounds), a 6-foot junior forward, is arguably the county's most improved player. Bryant is shooting an astonishing 60 percent. Greenberg thinks Doreatha Beck's 12-year-old schoolrecord of 55 percent is in jeopardy.
Then there are the role players, a Hebron trademark. Forward Tierney Clark, second on the team inrebounding and third in steals, is this year's defensive specialist.Forward Sandra Benson (three points, four rebounds) hits clutch baskets and epitomizes the team's unselfishness. Guards Lori Pasquantonioand Sandy Lewis and forward Kristen Lloyd make every minute off the bench count.
"No doubt, we have three really outstanding players, but what makes it work is the other two who have no problem with that," Greenberg said.
The question persists. Who is going to beat Hebron?
In no particular order, here is how the best of the rest stack up.
* Hammond. The Golden Bears are 7-0, are shooting 40.6 percent and have outscored opponents by an average of 22 points, but coachJoe Russo admits most of the victories were against weak competition. Hammond will put the league's most athletic team on the floor each night, although the Bears lack a dominant inside player.
Point guard Kacy Williams (14.4 points, six rebounds, five assists, four steals) and forward Sonia Keiner (16.1 points on 66.2 percent shooting, 10rebounds) have been superb. The Bears need Kristen Moraz (eight points, seven rebounds, four assists) to increase her scoring. Freshman Tameka Harrison (nine rebounds) has provided a defensive lift.
* Howard. The Lions are 7-1, their lone defeat coming at the hands of 3A state title favorite Linganore, 73-59. Otherwise, they also have benefited from a soft schedule. But this squad has fine talent and an excellent coach in Craig O'Connell.
Point guard Camille Powell (11.3 points, 7.4 assists, 7.1 steals) is playing her best basketball ever,as is guard Sharon Ford (12 points, six rebounds). Forward Krista Fulton, still adjusting to a low post role, is averaging 14 points on 53 percent shooting, but must improve her 4.8-rebounding average. Forward Emily Petrlik (5.8 points) has struggled with her shooting, but is compensating on defense (7.5 rebounds, 3.5 steals).
And the Lions have received a jump start from guard Mona Jackson (11 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.5 steals), arguably the league's top freshman.
A lack of depth is a major drawback for the Lions, who must avoid foul trouble.
* Glenelg. The 6-2 Gladiators, like Howard and Hammond, have played some weaklings, and their 50-45 loss to North Carroll still burns in coach Chuck Struhar's mind. Struhar calls the Gladiators "anaverage, very hard-working team with a few nice players," but they are dangerous as long as their starters stay out of foul trouble.
Point guard Tanissa Dorsey (18.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 3.3 steals) is sensational, and Struhar figures to get consistent play from her. Guard Jenny Leedom (11.2 points) plays some of the best defense in the county. Forwards Sarah Jones (10 points, 5.8 rebounds), Dana Hoffman (5.8 points, 8.4 rebounds) and Debbie Snyder (6.6 rebounds) give the Gladiators a strong inside game.
* Atholton. The Raiders are the best of the second division, thanks to a rejuvenated offense, which has averaged 59 points during a 5-3 start. Guard Allison Valentino (17 points, three assists) and Vanessa Clack (eight points, seven rebounds, 4.9 assists) have shared ball-handing duties effectively, and forward Juanita Thompson (16.4 points) has provided scoring punch.