Coach's edge in experience no guarantee for Southern

ON HIGH SCHOOLS

March 09, 2007|By MILTON KENT

It has become standard practice for one team in a postseason matchup to pooh-pooh the importance of an experience advantage in a coming game, and so it is with today's 2A girls state semifinal between Southern (Anne Arundel) and Poly.

What turns this game on its ear is that Southern coach Linda Kilpatrick, who has won five state titles and whose Bulldogs (20-5) reached the semifinals last year, is the coach ignoring the experience gap over the Engineers, who are making the school's longest foray into the state playoffs - boys or girls.

"My having been there doesn't give you an advantage," said Kilpatrick, who has won 427 games during her 30-year coaching career. "I know what's going to happen to them, but other coaches know what's going to happen, too, when they come in and they're so nervous."

On the other bench, not only will Poly coach Kendall Peace have to get her players to ignore the disparity in experience between themselves and Southern, which brings back 10 players from last year's semifinalist, but Peace will have her own issues to work through.

"I still kind of need to be pinched, because it's all unreal for me now," Peace said at a pre-semifinal press briefing this week. "All of this is unreal right now. At the end of the day, we still have to get back to work. My athletic director says we haven't had a Cinderella season, but it can have a fairy-tale ending."

The Poly-Southern matchup may be the most compelling of the four 1A and 2A semifinal games today at the RAC Arena at UMBC, but it's not the only interesting story line.

In the other 2A game, No. 9 Atholton (23-3) makes a second straight trip to the semifinals, with the challenge of beating the only remaining undefeated team in the draw, Walkersville (25-0) of Frederick County.

In the 1A tournament, No. 8 New Town (25-1) makes a third straight try to get over the hump of the semifinals and into the championship game, with a meeting against Pocomoke (18-5).

Southern's roster for its record 13th trip to the state semifinals looks a lot like the previous 12, dotted with scrappy role players who might not dazzle individually, but collectively do whatever the moment requires them to do.

It's the satisfaction of forging the collective into a cohesive unit that can make lasting memories for themselves that keeps the game attractive for Kilpatrick after all these years.

"I tell them [the players], `If you go and ask any of the girls who have played on a state championship team, not just mine, but any, tell me two highlights of your life,'" Kilpatrick said.

"I say two, because one of them may be your first child or having a child. And second would be winning a state championship. There's nothing that compares to that feeling of being the best in what you set out to do."

For Peace, in her fifth year at Poly, the run through the state playoffs has given the Engineers (16-5) a chance to forge an identity apart from the school's storied football program, not to mention to establish that they are separate from Western, the all-girls public school whose building is on the same campus.

"It's time for my kids to start making a name for themselves," said Peace, a member of Poly's 1996 city championship team. "After winning the region, I think they've kind of started to make a name. It's not just Poly football anymore. We exist, too."

And as for experience, or lack thereof, Peace will tell her players not to worry about what they don't have.

"I just want them to play within their means," Peace said. "Pretty much, if you don't know what's out there, you don't know what to be afraid of. If you don't know about it, how is it going to bother you? I just want that to be the atmosphere or the environment."

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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