Shooting for encore

New-look Milford Mill aims to repeat as state champion.

December 07, 2005|By KATHERINE DUNN | KATHERINE DUNN,SUN REPORTER

Milford Mill will soon put the finishing touch on its first girls basketball state title, hanging a green and white banner on the gym wall proclaiming the Millers 2004-05 Class 3A champs.

What a thrilling finish it was.

In the state semifinal, the Millers rallied from a 15-point, third-quarter deficit to upset top-ranked and unbeaten River Hill, 68-59. Then, they came from nine points down to beat three-time state champ Paint Branch of Montgomery County, 57-48, in the final. After that, the Millers (23-3) ascended to the No. 1 spot in The Sun's final poll.

Just thinking about it all puts a wide smile on senior guard Krichan Green's face and a faraway look in her eyes.

"It was a rush, an adrenaline rush," Green said. "I've never felt that feeling before, but we'd never won states before. My plan, as I go into this year, is to come back and try to do it again."

For Green and fellow returning players Brittany James, Destiny McCallum and Ericka Harrigan, the challenge of trying to match last season's accomplishments may seem a daunting one, especially after graduating their entire starting lineup.

Still, it's a challenge they meet willingly. They know what it takes.

"Effort, passion, determination, hard work, desire - it's going to take all those things to get us back," James said. "We had all that last year, and starting all over again this year is going to be hard. We're starting all over with a whole new team. Nobody expects us to do it this year, but nobody expected us to do it last year."

The Millers, who are ranked No. 11 in the preseason poll, have a lot of work ahead.

They're not just filling in spots. They're completely rebuilding. The heart of last year's team - All-Metro forward Chelsea Jeter, All-Metro guard Shawna Scott and guard Tammy Rogers - graduated.

DeToiya McAliley, last winter's All-Metro Coach of the Year, worked magic with that veteran squad after stepping up from the junior varsity when longtime coach Pam Wright left for New Town. Now, she faces the challenge of keeping this young team focused on building its own legacy and not living in the past.

"I told them that was great, but this is a new season. That doesn't matter anymore. Yes, we won, but that was in the past," McAliley said.

"They should be proud of their accomplishment, but I reminded them that there are only four people on this team who were part of that accomplishment. They've seen how hard it was for us to get to the point we got to last year. If they want it, and if the people that won one already love that feeling so much that they want it again, they know what they need to do."

The Millers still have high expectations, but they say they don't feel any pressure. They're more excited by the prospect of putting their own stamp on this year's team.

"I'm definitely excited," said James, a 5-foot-9 forward. "I get to be me and show what I can do. Last year, with so many good players, I didn't get to play my game. I've got to rebound hard, box out and shoot - I want to shoot more. Coach is expecting a lot of me and I just hope I have a breakout season."

The Millers may be a different team, but they will have a similar look. They don't have a lot of height, but they have a lot of speed and scrappy players.

James and McCallum, another 5-9 forward, will get help on the inside from 6-1 Harrigan and 6-0 Chirice Conney, both center/forwards.

On the perimeter, where the Millers need to replace a lot of scoring, senior transfer Ariel Blackwell and freshman Devonne Richardson are welcome additions.

Blackwell led Baltimore City's Northwestern in scoring last season before her family moved into the county. Point guard Richardson already has been lighting it up in preseason scrimmages.

"I think we're faster than last year's team," McAliley said. "We're scrappy still, aggressive. We're very physical, which is good. Surprisingly, our jumpers are better than I thought they would be. We're not starving for three-point shooters, but we don't have as many as we had last year. We just have a lot of potential."

The Millers, who open their season tonight at 6:30 at home against Catonsville, likely will remain in a battle with New Town and Woodlawn for the Baltimore County championship.

When the Millers head into regional play, they will compete in Class 2A this season, which could pit them against No. 4 Winters Mill and/or defending champion Potomac if they can get back to the final four.

While the Millers strive to win another state title, Green realizes that a banner on the gym wall is not the only reflection of a successful season.

"I'm not going to say we have to win the state championship, but it would be nice," Green said. "Just knowing that everybody came and left it all on the court and put their best foot forward, that's enough success for me, knowing that everyone worked just as hard as the next person and everybody learned something."

katherine.dunn@baltsun.com

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