In transition

For Fallston's Jess Harlee and others who thrived as freshmen, sophomore year presents a big change

Girls Basketball

December 05, 2007|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,Sun Reporter

Fallston's Jess Harlee knows things will be different now that she's a sophomore.

When she burst onto the varsity girls basketball scene a year ago, opponents didn't know a lot about her. Now, they know.

Not only did Harlee lead the Cougars to the Class 3A state semifinals for the first time in 10 years, but she was the Harford County Player of the Year and a second-team All-Metro selection.

For a sophomore with that resume, expectations can only rise.

"I think I'm going to be expected to be more of a leader and be more vocal this year and more of an offensive threat. I guess I'm looking forward to that, but I have big roles to fill," the 5-foot-9 forward-guard said.

For Harlee and others who led their teams or had a major impact as freshmen, the sophomore season can be an important transition year in their high school careers. From unknown to marked player. From nothing to lose to great expectations. From learning the ropes to growing as a leader.

Much of how they handle that has to do with maturing as a person and as a player.

"I always feel like the sophomore year is the make-or-break year for them in all different stages of development, not only in athletics but in academic achievement," Fallston coach Vern Brown said. "If they can figure out a way to figure things out as a sophomore, everything pretty much goes smoothly the rest of the way through."

While some players struggle with the transition, most handle it well and don't think about it being such a big step.

Many, including Harlee, have played basketball for years and are used to leading their Amateur Athletic Union teams.

City sophomore LaShay Taft, also a second-team All-Metro selection, doesn't think she'll have a problem despite the added attention she's likely to draw.

"By me getting on first-team All-City and second-team All-Metro, I think there's going to be pressure on me and that's going to make it harder. I'm going to have to work harder, but we've got a better team this year, so I don't even worry about that."

With the growth of AAU ball, more girls arrive at high school with a higher level of skill and basketball experience than ever before. Many begin playing AAU at 9, so more freshman are ready to contribute -- and even excel -- on top varsity teams.

Some coaches said the bigger transition comes during the freshman year with the adjustment to high school competition, but most say, for the top-notch freshmen, the expectations that come after a stellar debut can make for a tougher transition into their sophomore years.

"The biggest adjustment is that they get all that recognition pretty early, and they're so young," Seton Keough coach Jackie Boswell said. "They're 14 years old, some of them, as they're making that transition. Sometimes, that pressure is tough. I feel like sophomore year is the toughest. It's tough academically, socially and athletically."

St. Frances senior Kandice Green remembers being nervous heading into her sophomore year after helping the Panthers win the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference title as a ninth-grader.

"It was a lot of pressure," Green said. "It was like, `OK, look what she did freshman year.' Everyone kept saying I was going to get the sophomore jinx. I was nervous my freshman year, too, but they knew I was going to be nervous, and I did well. They were looking for a lot more consistency my sophomore year."

In addition to more consistency from sophomores, coaches look for overall improvement and development of leadership qualities. Most said they have to approach each player differently.

"You want to hold the kid to a high standard, but you have to remember that they're young and they're kids," Brown said. "You have to be a little bit flexible with how you handle them."

St. Paul's coach Jim Stromberg said sophomores need time to develop no matter how good they were as freshmen.

"As freshmen, you expect mistakes," he said. "For sophomores, as a coach, you still have to allow that leeway to be creative and make mistakes because they're still growing. A lot of times, people think sophomores should be the finished product, but they're going to continue to grow for years to come."

Last season, about a dozen sophomores handled the transition perfectly, improving their games and earning top honors, including two first-team All-Metro players, Seton Keough's Asya Bussie and Western's Akeema Richards, and Carroll County Player of the Year Katie Schwarzmann of Century.

Brown and most of the coaches who witnessed Harlee's debut expect her to be just like those three. So does Harlee.

"I don't think it's going to be too hard," she said. "I know I have to come out as strong as I did last year and I have some pressure, but I've been a leader on almost all my teams, so I think I'm ready."

katherine.dunn@baltsun.com

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