Going into yesterday's Class 2A state semifinal game, the Atholton girls basketball team didn't look at itself as being decisively smaller than Walkersville, the West region champion.
Just decisively quicker.
The No. 9 Raiders hassled their previously unbeaten Frederick County opponent with a relentless press and made a determined effort to get to the basket on offense, also leaning on last year's state semifinal loss as experience.
Junior guard Brittany Coughlan led four starters in double figures with 17 points, and the united front on defense caused 27 turnovers, sending Atholton to its first state championship game with a convincing 68-56 win over the Lions at UMBC's RAC Arena.
The Raiders (24-3) will meet Southern-Anne Arundel - a 63-53 winner over Poly in yesterday's other semifinal - at 1 this afternoon.
"I know last year we felt in the locker room that we had more to give and we didn't leave it all out on the court," Coughlan said. "We knew this year we weren't going to play down to anyone's level. We were going to play our game and we were going to give it everything we had, especially knowing this could be our last game of the season."
In doing just that, the Raiders didn't allow the Lions (25-1) to fully use 6-foot-4 senior center Samantha Schanuel and 6-2 senior forward Jennifer Maggi.
With a 27-26 halftime lead, the Raiders started fast in the third quarter and ended it similarly to take a 49-38 lead into the fourth. Senior guard Julie Taylor scored eight of her 16 points in the third quarter.
Taylor - the only senior starter, who returned alongside juniors Coughlan, Elie Snyder (13 points), Taylor Chapman (13 points) and Julianne Conroy (seven points) - said the team's confidence is at an all-time high.
"I've been playing with these girls since I was a sophomore, so it doesn't really feel like I'm the senior and they're the juniors. We're all really experienced when it comes to playing together and especially in the past month I'd say we've come together incredibly," she said.
As for the halftime look, Atholton coach Maureen Shacreaw had seen it before in recent weeks. The Raiders used big second-half performances to knock off River Hill in the Howard County championship game and then beat a bigger Potomac team to win the South region.
"The attitude in the locker room at halftime was, `It's sitting right there, let's go,' " she said.