Big girls don't cry?
Was that the message the referee was trying to deliver to North County center Joy Farmer in a recent game, when the 6-foot sophomore complained of rough-housing by the opposition?
"He told me, 'As big as you are, you shouldn't even feel it,' " said Farmer, a powerfully built 15-year-old. "I take a beating out there. Sometimes, it's like girls just come out trying to fight me.
"I'm a big girl and I grew up playing with the guys in my neighborhood, but I've never been in a fight in my life. This year, though, I've already been slapped in the face. Even though they hit me, I don't want to ride the bench, so I don't hit back."
But Farmer is hitting back: She's just not using her fists.
Like several other tough-minded sophomores who have been thrust into starting roles on their girls basketball teams, she is handling the brutal county-league schedulewith skill and maturity that belie her youth.
Among them is Southern's 6-foot Laekeka Wesley, who has led the Bulldogs to a No. 14 ranking in The Sun's poll.
Archbishop Spalding's Carrie Parsons, a 5-10 center, rates with the Baltimore metro area's top rebounders. And pesky guards Bridget Smith of St. Mary's and Michelle Salmon of Old Mill successfully have navigated their teams to the top of their leagues.
In North County's first 10 games, Farmer averaged 13.7 rebounds, 11.2 points, 2.3 steals and one assist.
"I thought my bestgame was the Annapolis game," Farmer said of her 10-point, 10-rebound performance in a 40-32 come-from-behind victory. "I didn't score a lot, but I thought I was really on my game that night."
So did Coach Sally Entsminger, who joined the crowd in giving Farmer a standingovation when she fouled out late in the fourth quarter.
"I thought I played like a complete player," Farmer said. "I passed the ball alot, and on defense, I was like, 'This girl's not going to get this pass -- not today.' "
Wesley, 16, had one of her more balanced games in a 54-44 victory over North County last Monday.
The lean125-pounder gracefully maneuvered up and down the court with the coordination and swiftness of a point guard.
Wesley ended the night with a team-high 13 rebounds and 15 points. She was a force in the Bulldogs' press, contributing six steals to raise her total to 21 after nine games.
Wesley entered the North County game averaging nine rebounds -- down from her 13.4 of a year ago -- and 11.4 points.
Butthere was that forgettable third-quarter stretch when she allowed Farmer to limit her to just two boards and was slammed to the floor while battling for a loose ball against North County senior Renita Johnson, who scored 32 points.
Wesley came back with a six-point fourthquarter before fouling out.
"Johnson's going to get her points," Southern coach Linda Kilpatrick said afterward. "I thought Kaeka did a good job playing within herself, especially on the boards."
"I knew this was going to be a tough game," said Wesley, who had a team-leading 19 points in Wednesday's 47-36 victory over Glen Burnie. "I think about the games all day in school. I know everyone knows about meand they're watching me. Sometimes, it's scary, but you just can't let anybody intimidate you."
Parsons was an intimidating forcein Spalding's 58-56 loss to No. 10 Mercy last Tuesday, scoring a season-high 20 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. Eleven of those points came in the fourth quarter, when the Cavaliers tried to overtake the Sharpshooters.
"Being a freshman on a varsity team last season, at times she was shy and backed off, but now she's more of an aggressiveplayer," said Spalding coach Paul Leimkuhler. "This year, she stepped forward as a scorer. I needed a major scorer because Amy (Langville) was the only returning starter, and Carrie has really stepped up and put some points on the board."
Mostly a reserve last season, Parsons, 15, is the team's third-leading scorer at 9.4 points a game andtops all Cavaliers with 9.5 rebounds.
Parsons, like Farmer, has grown accustomed to the jostling that takes place under the basket.
"I'm pretty strong underneath, so people get mad when I put my body on them and push them back. But that's just doing what I'm supposed to do. I just go inside and stay inside, pounding the boards. I play my hardest. I like to go for it," she said.
"Some games, I get bumped around a little bit, but I try to stay tough."
Thrust intothe St. Mary's backcourt as a freshman last season, Smith had to remain tough through the rigors of the Catholic League.
"At first, I was real nervous, but then I thought, 'I can play with these people.'I felt like I fit in there. I got used to it," she said.
Now her coach, Harry Dobson, is used to seeing the 16-year-old Smith excel inevery phase of the game and remove some of the pressure off leading scorer Randall Goldsborough.