Mount Hebron's Scott Robinson, The Howard County Sun's Coach of the Year, made an auspicious head-coaching debut this season.
He drew the best from a squad that many county basketball observers expected to finish last in an eight-team league.
The Vikings (17-7 overall, 11-3 league) finished in second place,three games ahead of the next-closest competitor. And they made it to the finals of the Class 2A Region II tournament.
"At the beginning of the season I would have been happy with 12 wins," Robinson said. That's the number the Vikings won the previous year, when Robinson was an assistant coach to well-respected Chuck Monninger.
Mount Hebron accomplished its year to remember by winning an amazing number of close games. Eight of its 11 league wins were decided by five or fewer points. The Vikings won twice in overtime -- one of those a triple overtime at Wilde Lake.
Robinson was at his best in that game, swiftly making one correct decision after another.
"Coach has been the difference in the close games," Vikings point guard Tony Yanero said. "If you win one or two close ones it might be luck, but not whenyou win this many."
The Vikings achieved success by concentratingon defense. They were one of the leading defensive teams in the Baltimore area, giving up 54.4 points per game.
"I had a lot of hard workers," Robinson said. "The kids listen, they're reliable, and our practices are intense." During the Thanksgiving break the team put in two-a-day practices.
Superior conditioning may be one reason why the Vikings came out on top so many times.
"We create turnovers at the end of games because we're not tired," 6-foot-5 center Jim Zurad said. "And we hit our clutch free throws."
Robinson, a media specialist at Mount Hebron, served a nine-year apprenticeship as an assistant varsity coach before getting the head coach job following Monninger's resignation last year. Seven of those years were spent working with the third-winningest coach in Maryland, Loyola's Jerry Savage.
Robinson tried to create a family atmosphere in which every team member pulls for the others.
"I don't have kids complaining about notgetting playing time," he said.
The team play was evident in the balanced scoring stats. Four starters averaged between 10.5 and 11.5 points per game.
Mount Hebron excelled at passing until it found the open man and in taking advantage of mismatches in defensive coverage.
Robinson attributes the many close wins to the confidence the players developed in tight situations.
"Playing a tough non-leagueschedule helped build their confidence," Robinson said. The Vikings were 6-4 in non-league contests, including the playoffs.
Robinson also spreads the credit for his coaching success to his assistant coach and brother, Chris Robinson.