Having attained respect, Long Reach aims higher

Girls basketball: Only a few years removed from being a doormat, the seventh-ranked Lightning is 13-0 and serious about winning a state title this season.

High Schools

January 25, 2004|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

There were times when the Long Reach girls basketball team earned as many wins in a season as you could count on one hand, had players collecting one foul after another, and saw a sense of excitement fade after the first month of play.

"We were pretty bad," said senior guard Lytia Blackmon, who was referring to the 2000-01 campaign, but could've been talking about the program's first five years.

Fast forward to the present and the Lightning is enjoying a run of success that is unprecedented for the 9-year-old school in Columbia.

Long Reach is 13-0 overall - the only undefeated team in The Sun's Top 20 - and 11-0 in Howard County. The Lightning, which is ranked seventh, has already clinched its third consecutive winning season.

But even that is not enough to satisfy a program that has made capturing a Howard County title its first priority every year.

"Our goal is to win everything," said senior center Whitney Ward, who will play next season at George Mason. "I think we feel as though we can win counties and beat a Prince George's County school to go to states. We're just trying to make records here."

Ward isn't being glib. Gwynn Park coach Marvin Vann, whose Yellow Jackets have won the past two Class 3A state championships, told Long Reach coach Kevin Broadus after an East regional playoff game last year how impressed he was with Broadus' squad.

Compliments from opposing coaches were almost unheard of during the Lightning's early years.

Between the 1995-96 and 2000-01 seasons, Long Reach compiled a 29-90 record. The program earned zero, two and six victories in three of those years.

It wasn't until the 2001-02 season - Broadus' second as coach - that the Lightning registered its first winning record (14-9). Part of the turnaround could be traced to a then-sophomore class that included Ward, Blackmon and forward Timisha Gomez, three players who spend most of their offseasons playing Amateur Athletic Union basketball.

The following year, Long Reach was ranked No. 7 in The Sun's preseason poll - one spot ahead of Mount Hebron. The Lightning went 15-8, but coaches and players alike considered the campaign a disappointment because the team failed to defeat Glenelg, Mount Hebron or River Hill - widely viewed as the top teams in the county.

The word was that opponents could wear down Long Reach and wait for it to make mistakes at crucial points in the fourth quarter. Broadus didn't disagree.

"I think in past years the undisciplined part was true," he said. "When you get a young group in, you're trying to figure girls out. ... I think I was too nice at times."

Broadus remembers the low point of that season being the day after the Lightning dropped a home game to Glenelg, 64-40. As Long Reach was getting ready to meet Hammond, Broadus walked out of the gym to find only one player - Ward - going through the pre-game warm-up routine. The rest of the players were lounging in the locker room.

For a team-oriented coach like Broadus, the absences pained him. But Broadus said he didn't brood about it.

"What Shannon [Miller, an assistant coach] had to remind me was that they're kids," he said. "They're going to act silly, they're going to make mistakes. ... I got over it."

As Broadus checked his emotions, his players checked themselves. Rather than looking for individual stat lines in the scorebook, the players talked about playing as a team and working toward a common goal: a Howard County title.

The result? The Lightning defeated Mount Hebron this season for the first time in school history and has lodged victories against Glenelg and River Hill. Gomez, an All-Howard County selection last year who will play at Saint Joseph's, said the season turned on the team's 61-52 win over River Hill on Dec. 17.

"I knew we had a good team and that we had the personnel to win," she said. "Beating them gave us even more confidence."

Glenelg coach Ciaran Lesikar said he has noticed that confidence taking shape during games.

"I think the big difference this year is that they have been able to close the deal," Lesikar said, noting that Long Reach has three seniors - Blackmon, Gomez and Ward - who have played together since their freshmen years. "Senior leadership is such an intangible thing. ... Senior leadership can do a lot."

Indeed it can. Gomez leads the team in points (14.8 per game) and assists (3.4). Ward is the team's best rebounder with 8.0 per game and averages 14.7 points, and Blackmon leads the team in steals with 5.2 and is averaging 7.5 points.

But the seniors know they will need help from teammates like sophomore Carlie Nethken, senior Jordan Ambrose and junior Charlie Beasley if they expect to defeat River Hill in a rematch on Feb. 4 and wrap up their high school careers on a high note.

"We're anxious," Blackmon said. "We put a lot of pressure on ourselves because we're expected to win counties. So we know we can't lose."

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