Special chemistry creates winning formula for Cavs

Girls basketball: Seniors LaToya Strong and Kylie Bestul have a special bond as teammates and are looking to give No. 2 Archbishop Spalding its first conference championship.

January 13, 2002|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Kylie Bestul likes Maryland basketball, while LaToya Strong is a big fan of the Duke program. You can imagine the fireworks when that subject comes up in conversation.

"Maryland is my favorite team," said Bestul, whose computer screen name is gomdbeatduke25. "I'm sure we'll be betting this year."

"We fight all the time about it," said Strong, who vowed to come up with a screen name as creative as her Archbishop Spalding teammate. "Half of the team likes Duke, while the other half likes Maryland."

Unfortunately for opponents, college team preferences are the only thing driving a wedge between Bestul and Strong, the senior core of a Cavaliers girls basketball team trying to capture the first Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland championship in school history.

And thanks to a 58-49 victory over No. 5 Mercy on Friday and a loss Monday by top-ranked St. Frances, No. 2 Archbishop Spalding appears to be the leading candidate to claim the No. 1 spot in The Sun's Top 20 poll Tuesday.

Much of that success can be traced to the play of Bestul and Strong, who represent a seemingly perfect balance in the team's offense.

Strong, a 5-foot-8 shooting guard, is the perimeter threat who can hurt opponents behind the three-point arc or slash through the lane to the basket.

Bestul, a 6-foot center, is the inside presence who can anchor herself in the post or move out to the wings for a long-range jumper.

It's a two-player chemistry that has helped the Cavaliers, 12-4 overall and 7-1 conference, envision winning the conference title.

"They remember the loss to St. Frances [in the tournament semifinals] last year," Archbishop Spalding coach Deb Taylor said. "The minute that game was over in February, they set a goal to win it."

Part of that drive resonates from Bestul and Strong, both of whom contributed as freshmen three years ago. Bestul moved into the starting rotation as a power forward, while Strong was the first player off the bench.

The summer after their sophomore seasons, both players sought to develop other aspects of their game. More comfortable with her back-to-the-basket post moves, Bestul began expanding her range on her jump shots and dribbling with both hands in the unfinished basement of her home in Severna Park.

Strong, already blessed with quick moves to the basket, developed an accurate three-point shot and started lifting weights five to six times a week to outmuscle smaller guards defending her.

Their progress has drawn attention from colleges. Strong has already been offered a full academic scholarship to St. Joseph's with an invitation as a walk-on, while Bestul has been in talks with Western Maryland and Millersville colleges.

The Cavaliers haven't won an IAAM/Catholic League title in the school's history, falling one win short of moving to the conference's tournament final last season.

While both players absorbed that disappointment, Bestul said she felt even more troubled because of some self-appointed goals that she said she did not meet.

"I think, in my junior year, I was more concerned about my goals," Bestul said. "When I didn't meet them, I felt like a failure. That's not what I wanted this year. ... I really want to be able to look back and say I enjoyed this year."

Strong has had to deal with the loss of senior backcourt-mate Angela Schaech, who suffered a season-ending knee injury before the first game. Consequently, Taylor has leaned on Strong to assume the point guard role as opposed to her usual shooting guard position.

The quandary is that when Strong has to break an opponent's full-court pressure defense and run the offense, her statistics lag. For instance, in a 47-42 loss to St. Frances on Jan. 5, Strong recorded eight points, three assists, and zero steals.

"She's asked to do so much," Taylor said. "She has to play the best perimeter player, break the press, play 90 percent of the time. She may have been quiet in the points department, but she runs this team."

And observers are aware that the Cavaliers will go as far as Bestul and Strong can take them. For the two players who have played four years together, there's no better scenario.

"She's a great player," Bestul said of Strong. "You can't say, `I'll just guard Toya.' She can shoot it or drive to the basket."

"It's kind of neat to see us grow up together," Strong said. "On the court, we're great teammates, but off the court, we have a bond that I never want to lose."

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