How valuable is Denise Perrone to Chesapeake's girls basketball team?
A few snapshots from Tuesday's game against Severna Park:
The 5-foot-9 senior guard/forward scores Chesapeake's first points on a baseline jumper.
Perrone directs a bounce pass inside to Megan Van Wambeke, whose basket gives Chesapeake its first lead, 4-2.
Perrone passes across the perimeter to Jen Buck for the Cougars' initial basket of the second quarter. It cuts Severna Park's lead to 10-6.
There she is again, stealing the ball and feeding Lori Wlordarczyk, who draws a foul and goes to the line for two shots.
Her arcing jumper early in the second quarter swishes through the net, tying the game at 10.
The Falcons take their biggest lead, 29-21, midway through the third quarter, only to be hurt again by Perrone, who makes a three-point play, dribbles around a screen and hits a jumper, scores off the glass and makes two free throws. She accounts for 11 of the Cougars' 13 points in the quarter, and Chesapeake trails 33-32.
The 17th-ranked Falcons held on for a 40-32 win, their ninth straight. But Perrone had made her point.
Actually, she made 15 of them, one more than her team-leading average.
But the numbers don't tell the entire story. For a program that is on the rise after a lengthy down period, she is the main source of leadership as the only senior, and a player whom coach Dennis Thiele called "the catalyst, as far as someone I could build the team around" before the season began.
"She's the leader I wanted and needed to have this year. I wasn't sure she was going to be the kind of captain I was looking for, but she turned out to exceed my expectations," he said before a Wednesday practice.
"She does it in a little different way than the bossy types. She does it kind of quiet. She's leading by example on the floor, and the other kids are picking up on it. That relationship between her and the rest of the girls on the team is working out pretty well."
Very well, judging by Chesapeake's 9-6 record.
"She means a lot to this team," said sophomore guard Sandra Norris, a member of last year's squad that went 8-14. "Without her, I don't know where we'd be."
Perrone's first three seasons on the varsity ended with losing records and a front-row seat to someone else's playoff game. She made the all-county third team last winter after averaging 11.2 points, but individual honors don't excite her as much as the thought of competing in the region tournament.
"This year has been fun because we're winning," she said. "Having a winning record would be good, but I'd love to go to the playoffs."
Thiele said: "This is her swan song. She's never played on a winning basketball team before, she's never gone to the playoffs before, and here's an opportunity for her to do both.
"Denise is a very team-oriented girl. She's not selfish at all. I have to practically force her to take her shots. She'd rather pass than shoot. She was open several times [Tuesday] and opted to make the bounce-pass inside to the other girls. That's a consummate team player."
She also is willing to change positions. As a freshman on the lacrosse squad, she played defense. She switched to midfield as a sophomore and opened last season in goal because of a shortage of keepers before moving back to the midfield.
"As long as it helps the team, it doesn't really matter where I play," said Perrone, who completed her third year in the varsity soccer program last fall.
On the basketball team, Perrone is a guard when the Cougars have the ball and a forward when they're on defense. She can score from just about anywhere on the floor.
"She'll play anywhere I want her to and do a good job at it. She'll give you her best shot," he said.
"Give me that versatile kid every time, one who handles the ball well, plays good defense, rebounds when you need it and uses her head on the floor. How are you going to shut somebody down that way? If they come out to get her, I'll send her low. If they go low to get her, I'll pop her back out again. You can't stay with a kid like that the whole game."
Perrone won't stay with the sport once she goes to college
unless it's on the club level. She wants to play soccer and lacrosse, preferably at Randolph-Macon College.
She has spoken with the basketball coach at Washington College, but, "I might be burned out on basketball," she said.
"I've played a lot of basketball. I love it, but soccer and lacrosse are my favorites."