Adjusting and winning

Girls basketball: North Carroll coach Sarah Palmer and her players have learned to adapt to one another. The result? An 18-4 record, a Central Maryland Conference title and a No. 3 seed in the Class 3A West regionals.

February 27, 2000|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

If there's a theme to the North Carroll girls basketball team's season, it has to be adjustment.

As in the players adapting to second-year coach Sarah Palmer's man-to-man defensive strategies and half-court offensive game. And, as in Palmer growing comfortable with her squad's quiet -- almost shy -- nature.

But the one thing both the coach and players can live with is a run of success that has earned the Panthers their second consecutive county championship and a share of their first Central Maryland Conference title.

"If we didn't have a good season, I would've been disappointed," said senior guard Heather Easter, who is one of the reasons for North Carroll's 18-4 season and No. 3 seed in the Class 3A West regionals. "We have so much talent on this team, it was just a matter of us clicking."

The Panthers haven't clicked like this since the early 1990s when then-coach Greg Knill guided North Carroll to back-to-back county crowns in 1992 and '93.

But the road to the school's recent triumphs had a rocky start.

Palmer, a physical education teacher at North Carroll Middle School, was a three-sport athlete at Glenelg High School who played basketball at Salisbury State her first two years.

After she accepted the head coaching position at North Carroll in 1998, Palmer decided she would mold the program to fit her style.

"It was kind of difficult because I came in not caring who the starting five was from the previous year," she said. "Some people were upset by that, but I wanted to go with the best five I had."

Part of Palmer's plan involved adding a man-to-man defense to the team's variety of zone strategies and teaching the players how to set picks and how to use them.

In Palmer's first season, the Panthers finished 15-15 and shared the county championship with Liberty.

Expectations were high before this season. The players sought to defend the county title and advance further than their second-round exit from the regionals.

After losing its season opener to then-No. 8 Mount Hebron, North Carroll won 11 straight games and its own holiday tournament for the second consecutive season.

But Linganore, a perennial favorite to the conference crown, took the air out of the Panthers by throttling them, 78-48, in Frederick on Jan. 18.

"I think it was an awakening, that somebody beat us by so much," sophomore guard Katy Winemiller said of the 30-point setback. "We knew that we had to practice harder if we wanted to get better."

Despite back-to-back losses earlier this month to Frederick and Urbana, North Carroll continued to win, including an emotional 42-39 squeaker over Linganore in Hampstead on Feb. 11.

Some of the players were so elated that they called alumna Stephanie Rogers to share the good news with her.

For Palmer, the show of jubilation was a surprise. She said one of her daily challenges is "psyching up" the team before each game.

"I can rant and rave, and they'll look at me like I'm crazy," Palmer said. "If that's what they need to do, to be introverted, that's fine with me."

Senior forward Candice Jeffrey said the team's detached nature can be a blessing.

"If we lose, we won't get our heads down," she said. "If we win, we don't get big-headed."

The Panthers are powered by the trio of Easter, Jeffrey and junior forward Becky Wike.

Jeffrey and Easter -- both All-County players last season -- are 1-2 on the team in points with 15.5 and 12, respectively. Jeffrey, who is first on the school's career points list with 991, is also the team's leading rebounder with 12 per game.

The biggest surprise has been the emergence of Wike. Averaging eight points and 10 rebounds, Wike provides another inside presence that opposing teams can't ignore.

Now that North Carroll has defended its county crown and split the conference title with Frederick and Urbana, the focus is on the regional playoffs. Senior point guard Bethany Reeb said she likes the team's chances.

"I'm not guaranteeing anything, but we won't lose in our first game like we usually do," she said. "As long as we play together, everything will click."

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