N. Carroll must step up to keep basketball crown


January 12, 1994|By BILL FREE

Intrigue and excitement have returned to the Carroll County girls high school basketball scene.

There is a strong race for the championship after two years of domination by North Carroll.

Westminster and South Carroll look as if they will battle to the wire for the title, and two-time defending champion North Carroll suddenly has emerged as a long shot in the race.

Before taking the floor against then-19th-ranked Glenelg in the championship game of the North Carroll Holiday Tournament, it appeared to be a long season for the Ashlee Douglas and Michele Jeffery-less Panthers.

But they came together nicely in that game before losing the lead and the game in the final minute.

The emergence of South Carroll -- with the return of 5-foot-10 junior center Nicole Spencer to complement outstanding point guard Amber Clutter and excellent shooter Melissa Gettemy -- was expected.

But the splendid play of a well-balanced Westminster squad has been the big surprise. The Owls have climbed to 16th in the rankings behind the excellent inside play of 5-10 Beth Lister and 5-8 Julie Backof and the all-out hustle of perimeter players Lauren Kadlubowski, Lauren Zuskin and Cassie Conklin.

If Lister and Backof get into foul trouble, Westminster can turn to 5-9 freshman Jill Ibex, whose inside play has greatly improved in just eight games.

Westminster (6-2) has upset highly regarded Annapolis, lost by two points to Arundel in the championship game of the Arundel tournament and made life more miserable for Howard last week with a 41-36 win.

The only bad performance by the Owls, a 21-point loss, came in the season opener on the road against Sherwood.

Lister is the main scoring threat for Westminster, averaging 14 points, and Backof contributes eight points and eight rebounds a game.

Kadlubowski does a little bit of everything, including scoring some key baskets. Zuskin is a strong leader and Conklin is a major part of Westminster's full-court press.

However, Westminster coach Bernie Koontz doesn't want to gloat too much too early.

"South Carroll is potentially the best team in the county," said Koontz. "And North Carroll will be good the more games they play. We're just trying to do the best we can each game."

Asked if this year's fast start was especially pleasing in light of last season's struggles, Koontz replied: "We're only thinking about the present. We never look back."

Westminster will find out a lot more about its team tonight when it entertains always strong 4A opponent Montgomery Blair.

For 11th-ranked South Carroll (5-2 before last night's home game against Damascus), the key is just how long it is going to take Spencer to return to top form after missing the second half of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

The Cavaliers missed a lot of open shots in the 50-35 setback to the talented Linganore team, which ended its five-game winning streak.

Clutter made several nice moves to the basket for layups but the ball just wouldn't fall for her. Clutter wound up with eight points to lead the Cavaliers, and it's safe to say they won't win many games on nights like that.

But it was the first game for South Carroll in two weeks and that certainly hurt a lot.

For unranked North Carroll (4-5), seldom has a team blossomed overnight like the Panthers did against Glenelg in the North Carroll tournament.

North Carroll, which had been handled rather easily in the opening game of the season by the Gladiators, looked passive in a victory over Walkersville right before the holidays, and missed its first 12 shots in an opening-round North Carroll tournament victory over Francis Scott Key.

However, senior Casey Rhoten and junior Teresa Mays really started to surface as impact players against Glenelg the second time around, carrying the team to a near-upset win. Rhoten is the only senior on the team.

Junior point guard Cori Bradford also showed a lot of improvement, and sophomore guard Julie Baker just gets better and better every game with her speed and athletic ability.

And the Panthers are starting to get solid efforts out of sophomore Kathleen Tunney and juniors Amber Fleming, Kandi Lippy, Melissa Wilfong and Kelly Dunkleberger.

Before it is all over, North Carroll might have a lot of say about which team, if any, replaces it as two-time champions.

Genes will out

Last fall when Francis Scott Key's flashy sophomore field hockey and track standout Stacey Greene was asked where she got her superb ability, she didn't come up with an answer.

But thanks to Stacey's grandmother, Sandra Hughes, the word is now out.

Hughes writes that Greene's great-grandfather, Harry E. Hughes, was a top all-around athlete at Blue Ridge College in New Windsor in the mid-1920s.

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