Panthers' run surprises even the head coach Ross forgets rough start, looks to Old Mill rematch

February 15, 1993|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,Staff Writer

Her most reliable scorer graduated, and the girl who would have been the only senior decided not to play.

Only 38 players showed up for tryouts, a noticeable decline from the 60 who turned out the previous year. And the top returnee, a 6-foot-1 junior center with the skills to dominate, was placed on academic probation.

Annapolis coach Teresa Ross, in her third year and one season removed from leading the girls basketball program through a remarkable transformation, knew that her team -- and its hopes for returning to the region playoffs -- were coming unraveled.

But something happened to the Panthers on their way to oblivion. They slammed on the brakes, took their lumps early, got their best player back in uniform, and went on a tear.

After losing two of their first three games, the Panthers have won 14 of 15, including eight in a row. They were ranked No. 18 in the metro area last week, and should rise.

"I'm surprised by our record; I would have never guessed this," said Ross, daughter of San Diego Chargers head coach Bobby Ross, a former head coach at Maryland. Her young team is 15-3 overall, 5-1 in the Friendship Division. The Panthers were 5-17 in Ross' first season and 14-10 and a region semifinalist last winter.

"We had some problems at the beginning of this season because nobody was coming forth and taking a leadership role, but they worked things out," she said.

One potential leader, 6-2 senior Kai Simms, elected not to play basketball this winter, joining departed second-team All-County center Lisa Roberts as a significant loss.

Juniors Aleks Rhines and Cristi Samaras were chosen as captains, which was the first step in the right direction. Getting Shannon Henderson eligible after the 15-day probationary period was a giant leap.

Strong and agile enough to keep the ball alive and score on put-backs, Henderson is averaging around 20 points and 12 rebounds per game. When she gets rolling, which is frequently, the rest of the team follows.

"There's no doubt in my mind she can play Division I ball, no doubt whatsoever," Ross said. "With her rebounding, it looks like she's coming over the back, but if you know what to look for, you'll see that she's not fouling. She's jumping when they jump, and she's getting a hand on the ball. It's exciting to watch."

Annapolis won't impress many teams with its performance through four quarters of a game. Even Ross says, "Sometimes, the way we play, I wonder how we're where we are."

After an emotional 52-51 win over Severna Park on Tuesday, the Panthers came back the next day and were flat in a 31-30 victory over Broadneck. But having to face the well-coached, over-achieving Bruins with little time to recharge from a physically and emotionally taxing game against Severna Park left the Panthers vulnerable.

"I think we were really tired. I know that sounds like we're making excuses, but [Thursday] at practice, we barely did anything because they are just exhausted," Ross said.

9- The Panthers also were handicapped by the

loss of 5-8 freshman forward Stephy Samaras to a sprained ankle in Tuesday's game. "That hurt us down low," Ross said.

Annapolis will need all the muscle and determination it can scrape together for tomorrow's meeting at No. 2 Old Mill, the two-time defending Class 4A state champions. The Patriots are the only team to beat the Panthers over the last 15 games, but the 70-25 score was made possible, in part, by Henderson's absence.

Henderson was in uniform, but didn't play, and Ross wouldn't comment on the benching.

Without any real presence inside, the Panthers couldn't control an Old Mill frontcourt that included 6-1 seniors Anne Chicorelli (14 points, 11 rebounds) and Debbie Dawson (10 points, nine rebounds).

Ross' team was out-rebounded, 49-27, committed 37 turnovers and made just nine field goals. It was as brutal a beating as the final score indicated.

"We definitely want another crack at them," Ross said. "We know it's going to be tough up there, but with Shannon, we'll have somebody who can rebound. And quickness-wise, we should be able to stay with them and run the fast-break somewhat. I hope it will be a good game."

Henderson's availability isn't the only change in Annapolis since the teams last met. Role players such as junior guard Janelle

Queen, sophomore forward Artina Trader and sophomore guard Emily Nugent are contributing more -- further evidence that the maturing process has accelerated.

"Now we do have other people who can score a lot," Ross said. "Before Stephy got hurt, she was starting to get six, seven, eight points a game. And it also helps that we have kids coming off the bench like Artina and [5-7 freshman forward] Ginny Dauses scoring for us. Not big points, but critical buckets."

Queen scored a game-high 20 points in Tuesday's win over Severna Park, including two straight baskets after the Falcons had crept to within 48-47 late in the fourth quarter. And Trader filled in admirably for Stephy Samaras, adding four points and seven rebounds.

"Queen killed us, she killed us," said Severna Park coach Kevin McGrath afterward. "And No. 25 [Trader] made us play [Henderson and Queen] honest."

Nugent made what could have been a costly turnover in the waning seconds, giving Severna Park a last shot that bounced off the rim, but she redeemed herself with a game-high 17 points against Broadneck. Henderson got into early foul trouble and had just seven points, so Nugent's production was vital.

"That didn't surprise me at all. She's a good little basketball player, and she has a very strong character," Ross said.

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