A funny thing happened to Fallston on its way to what could have been a rebuilding season. The Cougars came within one victory of winning the girls Class 1A state championship at Catonsville Community College during the weekend.
With two freshmen starting, and as many as four ninth-graders on the court at once, Fallston overcame a slow start to make its first state semifinal appearance since 1987. The Cougars (18-6) went on to win 13 of their last 14 games before the state semifinals.
After a hard-fought 45-40 win over Worcester County's Snow Hill in the semifinals on Friday, the Cougars held their own before losing to top-seeded Williamsport (23-0) from Washington County, 34-21, in the championship game Saturday.
"It was upsetting to lose, but no one expected us to get to the states," said Fallston freshman guard Lori Heffley, who scored 17 points in the two state tournament games. "We've grown over the year, and we've learned a lot."
Other Class 1A schools may have to get used to seeing Fallston in the state semifinals.
"The future is definitely bright," Fallston assistant coach Alice Puckett said. "We have six strong players back and we have some incoming JV players that are very good."
After pulling the season's biggest upset -- a 52-43 win over then-No.1 Mount Hebron in the Class 2A, Region II final -- it would have been understandable if Hammond had been content with having reached the state semifinals.
Instead, the No. 4 Golden Bears (22-4) won their first state championship, defeating Howard County rival and 11th-ranked Glenelg (18-8), 56-51, in Saturday's final.
"We were on a natural high [after defeating Mount Hebron]," said Hammond junior Kristen Moraz, a member of the Golden Bears team that won one game in 1989-90. "But we realized that these games were just as important. The win over Mount Hebron did drain us, but I think we did just fine."
Top-ranked Old Mill's 50-39 win over Bowie in the Class 4A state championship game wasn't as dramatic or impressive as the Patriots' 53-51 upset of Springbrook in last season's final, but Old Mill coach Pat Chance isn't complaining.
"Last year we just went up to play our best and see what happened," said Chance, who has led the Patriots (25-1) to three state titles in seven seasons. "We didn't play our best [this season], but not playing your best and still winning says a lot for the kids. And winning the states is great no matter what."
Chance attributes her team's sluggish performances in the state semifinals to a lack of competition during the regular season.
"A lot of people think it's fun to win by big margins, but competition makes you better," she said.