When Harry Dobson played basketball at Annapolis High School in the late 1950s, he went to the University of Maryland at College Park fora state tournament and instantly felt overwhelmed.
"We walked into Cole Field House and I said, 'My Lord.' That was the first time we had ever seen glass backboards. And it seemed like it took us foreverjust to get from the locker room to the floor. I thought we ran a mile," he said.
He wants to make sure the same anxieties don't envelop his St. Mary's girls team this afternoon when it competes in its first Metro Classic, at 3 p.m. vs. Walbrook at the Baltimore Arena.
The Severn boys, also making their first appearance in the 10th annual event, meet St. Paul's at 5 p.m. in the Maryland Scholastic Association C Conference finals.
"We've been very fortunate to be able to practice the last couple days in a big facility very much like the Arena. It's identical size-wise and we've had two real good practices there," Dobson said, without revealing the location. "I was going to try to get them familiar at least with what the inside of the place looks like."
The Saints may be familiar with glass backboards, but they haven'tseen the type of crowd likely to filter into the Arena.
"I told them I don't know how many people will be there, maybe 5,000, and theyjust have to try to block that out," said Dobson, completing his first year as coach. "They all asked me, 'Mr. Dobson, we have to warm upin front of all those people?' I told them, 'The baskets are the same size, the balls are the same size. Don't worry about the people.' But that's easier said than done.
"I'm sure they're going to be nervous, but the other team will be, too, and it probably will balance out. Whoever gets it together first will probably be the one to win the ballgame."
Dobson's team has more to worry about than just the spectators. Walbrook (18-1) began the season ranked No. 5 in The Baltimore Sun poll, one place below St. Mary's, and since has climbed to No. 3. The Saints (23-3) are ranked fifth.
One of the Warriors' victims this year was Western, which has played in the last three Metro Classics by virtue of winning the City-Wide League. Walbrook unseatedthe Doves with a 49-47 win on Feb. 19, giving the Warriors a 15-0 league record and prompting Coach Pete Connally to call his team "the best in the state."
"It's hard to tell how good they are because ofthe schedule they play," Dobson said. "They've only played two or three teams this year that gave them any kind of a game."
Walbrook, which last appeared in the Metro Classic in 1988, has three scorers averaging at least 11 points a game, led by junior point guard Tina Fauntleroy at 14.6. Fauntleroy, who also leads the metro area with 9.2 assists a game, played on Dobson's Amateur Athletic Union team last summer, "so we're pretty familiar with her," he said.
Junior forward Lakeisha Dukes scores just under 14 points, and 6-foot-6 senior center Tabitha Chambers averages 11.8 points and 10.4 rebounds. "She's not real bulky, but it looks like she has a good touch," Dobson said of Chambers, who last season averaged 15 points and 17 rebounds.
Freshman forward Jamee Greenwood grabs 9.3 rebounds a game, but it was her eight fourth-quarter points, including the game-winner with less than a minute remaining, that pushed Walbrook past Western.
The Saints are led by senior guard Randall Goldsborough, third among countyscorers with 15.5 points a game. Another senior, forward Amy Mikula,averages 10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds.
"We have great leadershipin Amy and Randall, our co-captains. They've pulled all the other kids right along with them," Dobson said.
Sophomore point guard Bridget Smith is second to Fauntleroy in assists with 7.6, and 5-10 senior Kristine Manning, who will help Mikula in trying to keep Chambers off the boards, averages 11.4 rebounds.
The Saints already have wontheir first Catholic League regular-season and tournament championships. And while Dobson called today's game "the icing on the cake," hesaid merely being in the classic isn't enough.
"We're going up there with the idea of winning the game," he said. "We had goals at thebeginning of the year and we've accomplished every one except this."
Severn accomplished one of its goals, winning its first MSA C Conference regular-season championship. Now, a first tournament title iswithin reach, but standing in the way is a St. Paul's team that defeated the Admirals on a last-second shot, 50-48, in the finals of the Independent Schools Tournament last week.
The Crusaders' win avenged two earlier losses to Severn, 50-48, and 43-40.
"This is an even game, a crap shoot," said St. Paul's coach Rick Collins. "They're well-coached and they have some really excellent players."