On paper, Hammond's girls basketball team figured to be better than last year's state champions, with every starter returning. Four games into the season, the Golden Bears look as good as advertised.
The Bears are 4-0, averaging 62 points, and will head into next week's IAABO tournament with a 14-game winning streak dating to last season.
Hammond has all the ingredients a defending state titlist needs -- quickness, height and experience. Thursday, they put all of those components together in a 67-22 rout of Liberty.
They forced 39 turnovers, outscored the previously unbeaten Lions, 33-6, in the second and third periods and saw 11 players score. Liberty guard Amy Wolff, who entered the game averaging a metro area-leading 25.0 points, ended up with nearly as many fouls (three) as points (six).
"This is a neat group," Hammond coach Joe Russo said. "They meet an hour before every game to talk about their goals. There are no petty jealousies. Everybody is for everybody else."
The leader of the group is junior point guard Kacy Williams, a star player who continues to get better. She leads Hammond in scoring (14.8), rebounding (9.0), assists (5.8) and steals (5.6). She grabbed an astounding 16 rebounds -- including seven offensive -- in a 60-50 victory over Westminster on Monday. Already the team's best defender, she also has become a dazzling passer.
"If Kacy plays the whole year the way she's played these first four games, look out," Russo said.
The other four returning starters -- senior forward Kristen Moraz, junior forward Sonia Keiner and sophomores Tameka Harrison (forward) and Tiki Nicholson (guard) -- provide additional headaches.
Moraz is a dangerous shooter, Keiner is steady in all phases of the game, Nicholson plays Williams-caliber defense and Harrison, who has grown to 5-9, should complement her proven rebounding skill with added scoring inside.
Here's a scary thought: Hammond is mired in a shooting slump, having converted on just 36 percent of its field-goal attempts. The Bears have offset those problems with their press, which has produced 18 steals a game and created countless layups in transition.
A different year for the Cats
Wilde Lake's wrestling team knows as much as anyone how much difference a year makes.
This time last year, the Wildecats were a bitter 0-4 team, having lost those matches by a combined 19 points.
Not this time. With a 47-20 victory over South Carroll on Thursday, the Wildecats improved their record to 4-0. They also finished a strong fifth in the 17-team Douglass Tournament last week.
"The kids are feeling good. The older kids are starting to get the younger kids to practice early," Wilde Lake coach Rich Jackson said. "We can't stop now. We've got to keep pushing."
Nate Casella (189 pounds) and Mike Green (171), who had been expected to carry the Wildecats, have done their parts. Green is 8-1 and had three pins in the Douglass Tournament before finishing third. Casella equaled Green's performance in the Douglass Tournament, and has a 7-2 record that includes four pins and technical fall.
Nick Yoon (119), a county champion last year, is coming back from a rib injury and should start piling up victories soon.
But Wilde Lake is getting some surprising contributions. Talib Moreland (103) is 6-2, and started the Wildecats' victory at South Carroll with a first-period pin. Fennell Howell (125) also had a first-period pin at South Carroll to improve his record to 6-2. He has four pins. And 145-pounder Sylvester Briggs-Hall might be the biggest surprise. A first-year varsity wrestler, Briggs-Hall is 9-1.
Scorpions finally win one
The cigar of the week goes to Oakland Mills boys basketball coach Dave Appleby. With a 61-59 victory against Liberty last week, the Scorpions got their first win against four defeats.
The Scorpions did it in style, as Jerome Ware made a layup with five seconds left.
Still, the road promises to be a rough one for the Scorpions, who are unaccustomed to such conditions. Oakland Mills has finished below second in the county only once in Appleby's previous nine seasons. It has won the past five county championships.
That won't happen this year. The Scorpions are saddled with too much inexperience and lack too many skills, particularly ball-handling. They are averaging 20 turnovers and only 55 points.
Only Chad Barr -- the sixth man on last year's team -- came into the season with varsity experience. Michael Hill, an exciting performer at the junior varsity level, has been outstanding. He scored 19 against Liberty. And Ware (13 points, eight rebounds against Liberty) is improving with every game. But Oakland Mills probably won't finish above .500.
"Nobody is going to feel sorry for us," Appleby said. "It's a challenging situation, because I actually get to teach some things.
"This year, I couldn't care less about the record. The beauty of coaching is watching kids approach their potential. This year, that might be 10-10."