Whoever said lightning never strikes in the same place twice is obviously unfamiliar with the Ledo Lightning.
For the second straight year, the Davidsonville-based Amateur Athletic Union 13-and-under girls basketball team will flash its skills at the National AAU Junior Olympic championships in New Orleans.
In its inaugural season last year, the Lightning finished ninth in a 44-team field of 12-and-under teams in New Orleans. This year, coach John Foran is hoping his squad can block out the thunderous hoopla surrounding the event and get down to the business of playing basketball.
"The organizers of this tournament run it just like the Olympics and some of kids were a little star struck last year," said Foran. "The magnificence of the whole thing kind of hit them hard, but with that behind them now, I think they'll be ready to play basketball from the opening whistle."
Meanwhile, the Anne Arundel County Waves, Maryland's representative in the 12-and-under bracket, will try to shrug off the first-year jitters when they take the court in the AAU nationals at the Pontchartrain Center in nearby Kenner, La.
Waves coach Ray Moldenhauer, who led the Annapolis Area Christian School jayvee girls basketball team to an 11-0 record last season, believes his team's scoring depth and pre-tournament schedule will help make it competitive at nationals. But he said a lot depends on the team's draw.
"If we get in the pool with the three best teams in the nation we could be in trouble," he said, half kidding. "Our team has demonstrated excellent scoring balance in spite of playing against kids older than them.
"Almost every girl on the team has been one of the high scorers at one time or another. We have several exceptional perimeter shooters and that usually opens the middle for our inside game."
Six of Moldenhauer's 10 players were part of his Severna Park Magic team that went 30-4 last winter, and won the league championship, the Arbutus Thanksgiving Tournament and the GORC Christmas Tournament.
Among those six are Lauren Langley, Dana Kaegel, Danielle Kaegel, Meghan Fisher, Rachel Zephir and Heidi Moldenhauer.
To that core, Coach Moldenhauer added Sara Brino of Arnold, Lachelle McHenry of Odenton and Renee Hines of Columbia.
Ledo's 10-member squad is comprised of Jessica Marion, Monique Jennings, Jennifer Manning, Alisha Mosely, Amy Nye, Amanda Bourgeois, Tara Foran, Katie Graw, Melanie Morris and Jenny Mottar.
Graw, a 5-foot-10 forward, attended the nationals last year and admitted to being "a little" in awe of the environment. But she said she and her teammates will be less intimidated this year.
"We were nervous about going down last year because we had never been there before and we didn't know what to expect, but now we're more prepared and we have a better idea of what's going to happen," said Graw, who will attend Severn School as a freshman in the fall. "Now we know what to expect."
Marion is confident that her team has what it takes to make some noise at the tournament, but the 5-6 guard knows it will take more than words for her Ledo squad to repeat or improve on last year's finish.
"We played really good defense last year and did well, so if we play good defense and hustle again we should do as well or better," she said. "When we went down last year, we thought we would do real well because we had a fast and tall team but when we got down there we found the other teams to be faster and taller."
Monique Jennings, Marion's 5-6 backcourt mate, agreed.
"I was happy with the way we did last year, but I think we could have done a lot better. Down there, all the teams are good so you really have to work for what you get."