St. Frances travels far in third season

January 03, 1993|By Kevin Eck | Kevin Eck,Contributing Writer

St. Frances senior Tavonna Hines remembers the 1990-91 TC season, when moral victories were about the only ones that came the Panthers' way.

It was the first year St. Frances had fielded a girls varsity basketball team, and it showed. The Panthers went 1-16.

"We used to get down a lot," she said. "Sometimes, though, if we played good and lost, we didn't feel as bad."

St. Frances coach Jerome Shelton hasn't forgotten those days, either, which is why he refuses to let his team take its success this season for granted.

In its third varsity season, St. Frances has a 7-3 record (2-1 in the Catholic League) and is ranked 10th in The Baltimore Sun poll.

"We're trying to remain humble," said Shelton, who had coached the St. Frances boys junior varsity team for three years before accepting the job as girls coach. "I've learned a lot as a coach through adversity."

The Panthers' sudden emergence is not as surprising as it may seem. The team showed great improvement last season, when it finished 10-16 and went 2-12 in the Catholic League after failing to win a league game in its inaugural season.

St. Frances took another step forward when it upset Mount de Sales in the Catholic League tournament last season.

"Our first goal was just to be competitive within the league," Shelton said. "Winning two league games was a big step for us, and winning a postseason game was a big emotional lift."

The Panthers notched their biggest victory to date Dec. 15, when they edged then-No. 7 Archbishop Spalding, 52-51. It was St. Frances' first win over a ranked team.

St. Frances followed with a 43-31 win over the Institute of Notre Dame, which was quite a turnaround from the Panthers' first meeting with IND two years ago.

"Our first game in the Catholic League was against IND, and they beat us by about 70 points," Shelton said. "It gave me a glimpse of what the league would be like."

Said senior Naima Jamal: "After that first season, I never thought we'd be where we are now.

"But then we got Melba."

Jamal is referring to Melba Chambers, a guard/forward who averaged 18.5 points and 7.0 rebounds as a freshman last season.

Chambers, who was named to the All-Catholic League second team, is averaging similar numbers this season (18.0 points, 8.0 rebounds), solidifying her status as one of the area's top players.

"Melba's worth was immeasurable," Shelton said. "She plays with a lot of confidence, and the other girls began to feed off her confidence. She brought instant notoriety to our program."

Before attending St. Frances, Chambers had established a reputation as a talented player in youth leagues. She was a member of Freeplay, an Amateur Athletic Union team that also had such players as Chanel Wright and Kimberly Smith, who start for top-ranked Western.

Two other players from Freeplay -- sophomore Kristi Webb and freshman Takia Ervin -- are also key players for St. Frances.

Webb, a guard/forward, is the Panthers' second-leading scorer (15.0-point average) and Ervin is averaging 14.0 points and 7.0 assists.

Shelton acknowledged that he has a core of talented underclassmen, but he also attributed some of this season's losses to inexperience.

Against more seasoned teams such as St. Mary's and Arundel, St. Frances built early leads before succumbing to second-half comebacks.

"It's tough going against senior-dominated teams because they know how to pull the close ones out," Shelton said. "We don't know how to put people away yet. We're still going through a maturing process.

"But I'm happy where we are. We haven't seen the best of these kids yet."

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