In one year, Chapelgate Christian Academy's girls basketball team jumped from winless to 12-5.
The next step up gets a little steeper.
Flames coach John Curran just added the first public school to his schedule, accepting an invitation to play Atholton in the opening round of the Raiders' Central Maryland Basketball Tournament on Dec. 29.
"We're excited about the Christmas tournament," said junior forward Faith Meisinger, "but we're nervous because we don't know how we'll match up."
The Flames, in only their third year of competition, have matched up well against other small private schools.
Last fall, Curran took over implementing a team-oriented, back-to-basics approach that boosted the Flames to second place in the Maryland Christian Athletic League. That alone was a huge step for the young Flames.
Their program has grown along with their Marriottsville school, which is only 4 years old and enrolls 311 students in grades 6-12. This is the first year for a senior class, but Curran has no seniors on his team.
With that kind of youth, Curran does not want to move the program ahead too quickly. He wants to gradually upgrade his schedule.
Atholton's invitation is a good start, said Curran, also the Flames athletic director. "It's a compliment. Two years ago, we had to chase everyone down, and now schools are calling us to play."
The Flames aren't quite ready for some callers, including St. John's at Prospect Hall, an honorable-mention preseason pick by Street & Smith's. Curran declined the invitation for this year but wants to add it next year.
"I know we'll get tarred, but we can learn," said Curran. "It's the same reason Towson State plays Maryland. They know it's a loss on their schedule, but they also know the kids are going to grow from it."
Next year, the Flames will leave the MCAL and move into the tougher Washington-area Christian Schools Athletic Association. The players are looking forward to playing new and better teams.
"I like beating the smaller teams big," said sophomore guard Heather Davison, "but I prefer to have more of a challenge."
"Even if we lose, that's the only way we're going to get better," said junior guard Rachael Marriner. "We have to play tougher competition and we have to work together."
The team approach has been the underlying theme this season. Although returning All-MCAL players Meisinger and Davison lead the Flames (4-3 overall, 1-0 league) statistically, both are committed to improving the team as a whole.
"We're going through a transition stage right now," said Meisinger, who leads the team with 11.5 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.
"I think everyone had a different concept of what the team wanted to be, so we had a meeting and we talked about that. We decided we want to focus on the team, work together, play together."
The Flames still are adjusting to the loss of three starters from last year's team. They have depth at guard especially with the addition of transfer twins Joy and Melanie Brouillard, as well as Melissa Miller and Megan Sisler, but they need to develop their inside game.
Meisinger, at 5-foot-10, is the only experienced forward, but 5-7 junior Erin Collins (5.8 rebounds per game) and 5-11 freshman Anna Lohrmann are improving steadily.
"Right now, the sum of our parts is greater than our whole," said Curran. "We're not a bad team. The difference is being a decent to a good team vs. a team that can challenge the top schools, the top Christian schools."
Again this year, the Flames should be among the best teams in the MCAL. Their goal is to win the league title and earn a berth in the Association of Christian Schools International tournament, which begins with a district competition the first weekend in March.