A new twist at S. River: girls basketball is a hit

Basketball: After a stretch of mediocrity, the girls team is climbing in the rankings and is poised to challenge defending state and county champion Arundel.

January 26, 2001|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Success is no longer a stranger in Edgewood.

That's where the South River girls basketball team is putting together a season like no other in recent past. The No. 18 Seahawks have built a 12-2 overall record and sit atop the county standings with reigning Class 4A state champion Arundel at 8-0.

And if South River can preserve its place there, the home game against the Wildcats on Feb. 2 could loom as the first test to determine a county champ.

It's a challenge the Seahawks relish.

"We want to play them," said senior forward Alexandra Sullivan. "We want to beat Arundel and Broadneck and go as far as we possibly can in the state tournament."

South River's rise from doormat to contender began about five years ago. That's when Dirk Rinehart assumed the role as head coach and inherited a squad that finished 8-16 during his first year.

Rinehart, who was the program's fourth head coach in five seasons, introduced volumes of new offensive plays and defensive strategies that he wanted - actually, expected is more accurate - his charges to swallow and apply.

Sullivan and fellow senior Lindsey Roche - both of whom have spent their entire high school careers on the varsity squad - have vivid memories of their freshman seasons with the Seahawks.

"I remember being confused," recalled Roche. "There were, like, 5,000 new plays to remember."

"The first time we would play Arundel, people would comment, `Let's try to keep it within 50 points,' " Sullivan said with a laugh.

Now, though, the surging Seahawks are suddenly without their head coach for an undetermined period. Assistant coach Jessica Francis has been filling in for Rinehart for about the past last 10 days while he takes care of "personal matters," she said. Francis said she did not know when or if Rinehart would return to the team. Rinehart and athletic director Jim Haluck did not return calls to The Sun.

During the learning process under Rinehart, the Seahawks springboarded off a 12-11 record in 1998, then took a step back and a step forward in the standings, finishing 10-12 in 1999 and 12-11 last year.

So what changed over the past year? Roche and Sullivan don't think it's the personnel; they argue that this season's lineup has been more committed to spending the time in practice to repeat the drills until they get them right.

"It comes down to work ethic," Roche said. "We've had plenty of good players, but it comes down to dedication."

Francis would also contend that the team's spurt has coincided with the blossoming of Roche. The 5-foot-7 shooting guard is leading the county by averaging 18.1 points a game and has already eclipsed the 1,000-point plateau in a career.

Francis said Roche has been the main cog in the Seahawks' engine.

"She brings up the whole team," Francis said. "When she's on, she feeds them a lot of great passes, and she's the one who gets them pumped up."

Another key has been team defense. Rinehart, an advocate of pressuring the ballhandler, has implemented a full-court press that has limited opponents to less than 37 points a game.

In 14 contests, South River has outscored its opponents by an average margin of 20.2 points.

"When we have bad shooting nights, we stay with our defense," said Sullivan, a 6-footer who, when combined with 6-foot senior forward Sarah Swears and 5-11 freshman forward Lindsay Sheppard, pose a perplexing frontcourt dilemma for opponents. "Defense has always been the base for us."

So what's next? A rematch today at home against Broadneck, which upended South River in the championship final of the Lady Lions Tournament during the holiday break. But Francis is not one to count out even greater rewards down the road.

"I see their confidence rise when they have good night or when they instill things they have learned from practice," Francis said. "It depends on their attitude. They have the talent. The rest is up to them."

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