New coach. New offense. New defense. One returning starter.
"We're starting from scratch," said Mount Hebron girls basketball coach Scott Robinson.
It was the 1996-97 season, and Robinson, a veteran of coaching boys basketball, was ready to test the road of girls basketball for the first time.
Look out for the potholes.
"You always want to win right away, but in that first year when we took our lumps, [assistant coach] Scott Ruehl and I knew that we had some good young players and that we were teaching for the future," Robinson said. "People that I respect in coaching told me it would take three years."
Mount Hebron lost 16 of 23 games in Robinson's first season, then finished three games above .500 a year later. Last season the Vikings won 17 of 24 games.
Nine games. Nine wins. And looking for more.
"We've made a total turnaround from the beginning," said senior Annie Collins, a four-year starter. "My freshman year we won four [county] games, and this year we're one of the top teams in the area. It's really exciting, and it's something we've worked really hard for. This is the year we've waited for."
The ingredients for a special season are there. The eighth-ranked Vikings are talented, with a healthy mix of veteran and young players, and well-coached. The rebuilding years are over.
"Where at the point right now where we feel like the program is in good shape," said Robinson, whose team plays three times this week -- tomorrow against Howard, Wednesday against Glenelg and Friday against No. 4 River Hill.
Mount Hebron returned four starters from last season -- Collins, senior Lauren Kickham and juniors Erin Jaschik and Tiffaney Randle. Add sophomore Julie Napolitano from the JV, freshmen Kristen Waagbo and Thera Wolven, and returning senior Courtney Lombard to the mix, and the Vikings are not only talented but also deep.
"The biggest thing this year is that we're able to put different combinations on the floor," Robinson said. "And there's very little drop when we go to our bench. Our depth and the fact that this is our most athletic team means we're able to do some things this year that we haven't been able to do in the past. We play a lot of pressure defense, and rotating different people in eventually wears the opponents down."
The Vikings are tenacious on defense -- they have allowed an average of 29 points per game -- and score many points off their press. Offensively, they are patient and fundamentally sound. Five players average between six and 12 points.
Jaschik, a 5-foot-11 center and three-year starter, is the only player averaging in double figures. "She's our best finisher around the basket," Robinson said. "She can really shoot the ball."
Kickham, 5-10 and a four-year starter, and Randle, a 5-7 forward who moved into the starting lineup midway through last season, each average nine points. Collins, a 5-8 shooting guard, averages seven points and Waagbo, a 5-11 forward, averages six.
The addition of Napolitano and the two freshmen -- Waagbo and Wolven -- cannot be underestimated.
Napolitano, a 5-6 point guard, is playing exceptionally well. "She really sees the floor well," said Robinson. "She's making good passes and hitting the open people."
In nine games, Napolitano has made only nine turnovers.
Defensively, Napolitano is just as dangerous. "She just creates havoc," Robinson said.
Waagbo and Wolven, a 5-6 guard, are both solid shooters and handle the ball well. And both play with poise and confidence.
Lombard, 5-10, gives the Vikings an energy boost off the bench. "She can really get in and bang," Robinson said. "She plays hard and really goes after the ball."
Another factor in the Vikings' success is their togetherness.
"Without question we have tremendous chemistry," said Robinson.
Added Randle: "The bonding we have is unbreakable, on and off the court. And it doesn't matter who scores the points, it's all about hustling and working hard together."
For many of Mount Hebron's players, lacrosse is their future. Collins (Maryland), Kickham (Duke) and Lombard (James Madison) already have committed to play lacrosse in college. Napolitano is an outstanding soccer player, and recently was named to the under-16 national team.
But for the next three months, the players will focus on basketball. This is a special opportunity, and they know it.
Year ....................County .................Overall
1996-97 ..................4-14 ......................7-16
1997-98 ....................9-9 ....................13-10
1998-99 ..................12-6 ......................17-7
1999-00 ....................5-0 ........................9-0