Owls primed for a run

With the addition of standout transfer Marah Strickland, expectations have risen at Towson Catholic.

Girls Basketball

November 30, 2005|By KATHERINE DUNN | KATHERINE DUNN,SUN REPORTER

Take one of the top junior guards in the country. Place her on a team already brimming with talent. Add a coaching staff straight from the college ranks.

There you have Towson Catholic's girls basketball team, the program generating all the preseason buzz.

That buzz mostly surrounds Marah Strickland, a stellar 6-foot transfer from St. John's at Prospect Hall in Frederick. After last season, USA Today rated Strickland one of the top 10 sophomores in the country.

At Towson Catholic, Strickland has a much better chance to win the highly competitive Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference championship than she did at St. John's.

With Strickland and a bevy of talented returning players, including All-Baltimore County selections Tracy Johns and India Jones, coach Matt Fisher's Owls could be in the thick of a tight A Conference battle with three other top five teams - three-time defending champ St. Frances, McDonogh and Seton Keough.

Expectations haven't been this high at Towson Catholic since the Owls were a national power in the mid-1980s.

Roland Park coach Scott Buckley said not only do the Owls have the potential to win the A Conference, but they also have the potential to earn a national ranking.

"They would have been really solid if Marah hadn't transferred in," Buckley said. "Now, they should be rock solid. Talent-wise, they've got it all. They're quick, they've got size and Marah's just spectacular. If it all plays out and they gel, they should be untouchable. Whether they perform up to that level, we'll see."

While there is no question about the Owls' individual talent, there are questions about whether so many good players can make the sacrifices necessary to put the team first.

Last season, they couldn't. They fell apart, dropped out of the Top 15 and finished 15-10.

"Last year, we just had a lot of drama," senior guard Candice Walker said. "At first everybody was getting along, but toward the end of the season, there was a lot of jealousy, a lot of small stuff that this year, we're going to correct."

Overseeing that change in attitude is new head coach Fisher, fresh from seven years as associate coach and recruitment coordinator at Goucher. He brought along two other members of that Goucher staff, former head coach Charleta Neal and Lauren Zimmerman.

"People are so concerned about how you're going to play with all these scorers, that there's not enough balls to go around," Fisher said, "but there hasn't been a problem with the offense.

"We're just teaching team, practicing and preaching teamwork. The kids know I've put down the rules. I've told them this is how it's going to be, you've got to follow the rules and I haven't had anybody deviate from them yet."

The players said Fisher, who has added three nationally ranked teams to the Owls' schedule, made his expectations clear from the start.

"He showed everybody their roles," Jones said. "He established that at the beginning, which is why it's much easier."

Still, the real test will come once the Owls get into the big games.

"To me, it revolves around discipline," Mercy coach Mary Ella Marion said. "When they need to have control in regard to the offense and utilizing the skills they have, athleticism-wise they're right there at the top, but when people slow the tempo down, can they play a controlled game? If they can, they should be right there at the end."

The transition for Strickland, a Mount Airy resident whose sister Marche led the University of Maryland in scoring from 2000-2002 and whose brother Marshall now plays for Indiana, has gone smoothly in preseason, too. Besides her game, Strickland brings the Owls an upbeat vocal leader.

"She has a lot of team spirit and we didn't really have that last year," Jones said. "There's not a negative vibe coming from her. It's really easy to accept her."

While the Owls are grabbing most of the preseason attention, St. Frances coach Jerome Shelton is quietly preparing his No. 1 Panthers to retain their A Conference crown.

The veteran Panthers have a load of talent, including All-Metro picks Mi-Khida Hankins and Maya Newman, and a top-notch post game, but they also have a proven track record that gives them the preseason edge over the Owls.

"The two teams are similar in a lot of ways," Shelton said. "They have a very good backcourt and so do we. I think their post players are underrated. For us, it's just [that] we play together; we're blended. We have that championship experience from last year, so it's just a matter of raising our level of play, because we know they're very good."

katherine.dunn@baltsun.com

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