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Loss didn't dampen HCC celebration

March 22, 1999|By BOB PARASILITI

The final buzzer was still echoing as two parties began on Saturday.

Kirkwood (Iowa) Community College watched as time counted down to begin celebrating the 75-63 victory that allowed it to leave Hagerstown Community College's athletic complex with fifth place after three days of play in the National Junior College Athletic Association tournament.

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The gathering of Eagles looked like an ice cream social compared to waves of emotion over on HCC's bench ... and the Hawks lost.

Players hugged coach Marlys Palmer. Palmer hugged players. Fans and parents came down, alternating embraces and handshakes with players and coaches alike.

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It was a mutual admiration society. But even in defeat, the 1998-99 HCC Hawks had so much more to celebrate. They lost a game, but won a place in history.

"This team replaces the 1983 team when I start talking to my players," Palmer said. "That team was getting to be just one in my memory."

The 1983 Hawks were the last - and only - women's basketball team to represent HCC in the national tournament. In those days, it was one loss and out. Then Hagerstown Junior College, the national experience lasted exactly one game.

"We hit the last shot of the game and lost by one point," Palmer said. "If there had been a 3-point line back then, we would have won by a point."

This team placed that old "what if" story into true ancient history.

HCC's band of four sophomores and eight freshmen left no questions as to their place in school history. The Hawks (27-8) won the most games in school history. They won their first-every national tournament game and defeated a Top 10-ranked opponent for the first time.

And most of all, they finished seventh in the tough national tourney.

"We haven't been ranked since we started the season as No. 8 three years ago ... and that, I thought, was premature," Palmer said. "This team was unranked and finished seventh in the nation. My hat's off to them. This is a great team."

In this case, greatness wasn't measured by victories as much as by accomplishments.

"I went to (Tennessee coach) Pat Summit's clinic and read both of her books," Palmer said. "Her second one was called "Raise The Roof." I told the players that this year, we were going to raise the roof of HCC women's basketball. This year, we not only raised the roof, we raised the bar of expectations."

National tournament appearances will do that.

In the early years of the NJCAA nationals being played here, Palmer sat in the stands watching Frederick Community College compete on her floor, just wishing for a chance to be in the Cougars' shoes.

"The rivalry between Frederick and us has lifted the play in the Maryland JuCo Conference," Palmer said. "Everyone is now trying to play to our level. We came in here wanting to play to a national level. We earned respect here. We showed to everyone that we can play at this level."

HCC was built around the play of center Molly Schoenberg. The 6-2 sophomore from Chambersburg, Pa., gave HCC the height and rebounding to open up the outside game. But Sunday was her final game - along with Judy Zimmerman, Chaquitta Scott and LaShay Bailey - in HCC colors and on its gym floor.

Next season, HCC's quest for a return trip to the tournament will be anchored by its guards - namely Shanna Williams, who scored 31 points in the Hawks' final two games, and Ebony Rector, who was an HCC leader until suffering a season-ending knee injury.

"It will be awhile before we have Molly's size again," Palmer said. "But next year, we will be stronger at guard."

And next time HCC makes the nationals, the Hawks won't have to introduce themselves. The opponents should know who they are.

"My biggest concern at the beginning of the tournament was if we could handle the presses and pressure and play on this level of competition," Palmer said. "We proved we could. This is one loss that proved to be a win."

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