As George Heffley coached his daughter Lori's recreation basketball team over the past four years, he expected his best players to take Fallston to the state final four one day. But he didn't expect it would come in their freshman year.
"I knew they had a lot of potential," Heffley said. "But I thought they were a year away from making it to that level."
The freshmen, Lori Heffley, Suzy Harrison, Jenny Weber and Candy Credito, blended so well with the Cougars' veteran upperclassmen thatthey helped take Fallston to the state semifinals for the first timein five years.
Friday night, the Cougars (19-5) became only the third Harford County team ever to advance to the state title game. They defeated second-seeded Snow Hill (21-5), of Worcester County, 45-40in a Class 1A semifinal at Catonsville Community College.
Heffleyscored 10 points in Friday's win. But the night belonged to the upperclassmen. Senior center Nicole Lauer collected eight points, including six during a 10-point run in the third quarter that saw Fallston take the lead for good. Scoring honors went to junior Pam Toth (12 points, 12 rebounds, six steals), while classmate Cindy Jenkins added eight points and four assists.
Fallston was scheduled to play for the 1A title yesterday, against top-seeded Williamsport.
For the Cougars, the season didn't start out smoothly. They lost four games early, including their first two league games, against Edgewood and Joppatowne.
"At the beginning of the season, we thought we would be happy with a .500 season," Weber said. "Nobody expected us to get to states."
The early problems were simply growing pains. The freshmen needed time to grow into the game with the veterans -- most notably juniors Cindy Jenkins and Pam Toth and senior Tammy Kloiber.
"At first we really didn't know how they played," said Toth, "but as the season went on, they really picked it up and we played together."
After dropping those first two league games, the Cougars went on to win their next 11, including an upset of county champion C. Milton Wright. The Cougars had won 13 of their last 14 games going into the state playoffs.
The veterans -- Jenkins, the court leader; Toth, the leading scorer; and Kloiber, a solid all-around player -- have led the Cougars, but without the freshmen they might be watching the state playoffs instead of participating.
Heffley has started all season at guard; Harrison is a sometime starter at center; forwards Weber and Credito have contributed consistently off the bench. All say they wereaccepted quickly by their more experienced teammates.
"They don'ttreat us like freshmen," said Weber. "But every once in a while theytease us a little."
Their talent and their willingness to work hard helped the youngsters fit in quickly.
"They don't play like freshman," said Jenkins, who didn't realize at the time that she played much of the second half of the win over C. Milton Wright with the four freshmen.
Through their recreation years, Heffley, Harrison, Weber and Credito have played in tough leagues, with George Heffley seeking better and better competition. He took them to a league in Arbutus last year that had some of the better players from Baltimore City and Baltimore County. They finished third.
Last year, Heffley's team won the competitive Cockeysville Tournament. The Fallston girls were the first team from Harford County -- girls or boys -- to do that.
"They're just a group of intelligent, hard-working girls who love the game of basketball. They were easy to coach," Heffley said.
Fallston coach Nancy Ferguson has seen this kind of talent before, although not in a solid corps of freshmen. In her first season at Fallston, Ferguson took the Cougars to the state final four.
That team, which included Gina Daniel and Lisa Zahner, was going to the final four for the second straight year. They didn't get past the first round,but they did win the Harford County championship and finish 20-3.
Although Ferguson has had a lot of talented players since, she hasn't had as many at one time.
"Like any school, it goes in cycles," Ferguson said. "I think we're in a pretty good swing right now with what's coming up."
The future looks bright.
"This year's eighth-graders are awesome," said Kloiber. "I ref some of their games, and I think this trend is going to continue for a while."