Monica Santana never really had a choice when it came to basketball.
Back home in Puerto Rico, that was the only sport for girls. Monica started playing when she was 8 just before her family moved to Texas, where she discovered other games.
"My parents wanted me to play sports," said Monica, now a junior at Edgewood High. "Ever since I was little I've played soccer, basketball, baseball, football."
Monica, 16, brother Eric, 18, and sisters Jennifer, 8, and Vanessa, 6, all were guided toward sports by their parents, Eddie and Rosa Santana.
An Army major stationed at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Eddie Santana now coaches Monica on the EdgewoodHigh team.
"I'm a strong believer that kids should be involved insports," said Santana. "If you keep them in sports then you keep them away from any of the other problems outside of sports. And if they concentrate in sports, sometimes they can get a scholarship."
Santana, who has a master's degree from Texas Christian University, wantsall of his children to have college educations. But on his military salary, he can't afford the top schools.
Eric, a former three-sport athlete at Edgewood, attends Georgetown on a baseball scholarship worth $21,000 per year. Monica hopes her basketball skills will pay for her education, too.
Her statistics certainly should draw some attention. Monica leads the county girls basketball league in scoring, averaging 22.6 points a game. She is also among the top four in steals and assists.
Over the Christmas holiday, Monica was named to theAll-Tournament Team at the Noel Classic at Archbishop Spalding High School. The Rams (7-8 overall, 5-5 league) finished fifth of eight teams, but Monica scored more points than anyone else -- 58 in two games.
For the young Rams, the 5-foot-7 guard is the only consistent offense. In Thursday's 47-36 loss to North Harford, she scored 24 points, including all 13 of Edgewood's first-half points. Of the 15 fieldgoals scored by Edgewood in the game, Monica had 11. She did all of that while marked in a box-and-one defense.
Even though Monica said her father expects more from her than anyone else on the team, she obviously loves to play.
"He's tough on me. He likes to tape the games and play them at home. If I did something wrong, he tells me about it. But he pushes me to do my best," said Monica, who was Most Valuable Player as a freshman at Hardaway High near Fort Benning, Ga.
"Being disciplined from the military, I carry that over to basketball," said Santana, whose family spent one year in Georgia before returning to Edgewood. "I like to win and I like the girls to do everything they can to win. Everybody says you've got to have fun, but you don't have fun if you're not winning."
Monica's game grows with each new season. She averaged 15 points last year, but all aspects of her game have improved. Some of that came with hard work at summer camps.She earned all-star status at two summer camps, including the selectKeystone State Camp in Pennsylvania.
But some of that improvementis just the natural development of her game. When the Santanas firstarrived in Edgewood in 1986, they couldn't find a girls league for Monica. So she played with the boys until Santana discovered the highly competitive Liberty Road girls basketball program in northwest Baltimore.
Santana has coached Monica, as well as many of the other top players in Harford County on AAU teams for several years. In 1988, the Harford team won the state championship and went to Louisiana to compete for the national 13-and-under title.
But perhaps Monica's greatest improvement this year has been controlling her temper. Opponents frustrated her in the past by putting pressure on her. Except for one shoving match that got her ejected from a game two weeks ago, Monica has not allowed frustration to get the better of her.
"Monica's matured a little bit," said Santana. "Last year, she would have gotten very frustrated, but now, she just plays the game. That's what she has to do."