Pain and gain

For highly competitive Fallston High freshman Jess Harlee, the injuries don't feel too bad because the winning feels so good


January 28, 2007|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,special to the sun

Fallston freshman Jess Harlee poked the ball away from a Joppatowne player and then crashed into the first row of the bleachers during the third quarter of last week's 54-46 victory.

In the fourth quarter, she was run over by a Joppatowne player while taking a charge and was on the floor for several seconds. Later in the period, Harlee got steamrollered while playing defense. Again, she needed a few seconds to get to her feet.

By game's end, Harlee was sore - and satisfied.

"I always tend to go running into places and hit the bleachers or something," Harlee said with a smile. "If that's what I have to do ... I will do it."

It sometimes appears as if Harlee will stop at nothing to help Fallston win. She leads the team in scoring with 15 points per game and plays nearly every minute of every game. Her habit of playing the game with reckless abandon is what people notice first.

"She lives and breathes the game, and she has a passion for the game," Fallston coach Vern Brown said. "In practice she's like that, too. She's just real passionate about the game."

Harlee's older sister, Jen, was a first-team All-County pick last year as a senior and helped Fallston win the Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference title.

Jen, a 5-foot-9 forward, did her work quietly in the lane, while Jess, 5-11, can go flying all over the court at any time.

"I've always played that way," Jess Harlee said. "All the players on my team are afraid I'm going to break my bones because I'm always jumping somewhere or am on the ground. I tell them that I drink a lot of milk and my bones are strong."

Jess Harlee's versatility gives coach Brown a lot of options. She can play any position, although shooting guard and forward are her best. She played three positions while scoring 13 points in the victory over Joppatowne.

Harlee began the game playing on the wing, moved down low to forward and spent much of the second half at point guard. She also has developed unusual confidence for a freshman.

In the first quarter, Harlee turned the ball over three times and missed three open jump shots. But she never hesitated. She kept pushing and making plays and helped spark a late-second quarter run that gave Fallston command.

"She's a tough player," teammate Kristen Steiner said. "She plays her heart out. She brings heart and hustle. She does it all; she does everything."

Harlee began playing basketball as a 4-year-old. A few years later, a coach told her parents they might want to get her pads.

Harlee said her competitive fire fuels the passion. She said she recently was losing in a computer game with a friend and began screaming at the top of her lungs. Harlee's friend just laughed.

"I'm a very competitive person," Harlee said. "I don't ever want to lose."

That drive has helped her fit in with the varsity. Harlee was surprised when Brown put her on the team during the preseason and said she worked hard to click with the older players - many of whom played with her sister.

"I remember how scared I was the first day," Harlee said. "It was really hard coming in after my sister, because she did so much for that team. But I'm friends with a lot of them now."

When asked how good Harlee might be by her senior year, Steiner smiled. "She's going to be amazing," she said.

For now, Harlee is concentrating on her freshman year. She said she's going to keep playing all-out in an effort to help Fallston defend its UCBAC title and do better in the postseason than last year's early exit.

Everything seems to be coming together for Fallston. The victory over Joppatowne gave the Cougars a five-game winning streak and tied them with Aberdeen for first place in the Chesapeake Division.

Harlee was thrilled with the win over the Mariners, but after the game she was thinking about getting some ice packs and aspirin for a sore elbow.

"Right now it hurts," she said with a smile.

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