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The sum of the parts

February 22, 2002

The sum of the parts



By BOB PARASILITI
bobp@herald-mail.com


There's a certain edge to the Hagerstown Community College women's basketball team.

It can be felt in their words. From the most animated to the shyly introvert, each players carries a gritty confidence when she speaks.

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And why shouldn't they? The Hawks enter the postseason today carrying a 23-3 record, the program's best ever. They are also the top seed in the Maryland JuCo Conference tournament and are on the fast track for a national tournament berth.

In all honesty, the Hawks have many edges. The obvious one is straight, smooth and united to a fault. Under the surface, though, there are tabs and indentations coach Marlys Palmer has assembled and locked together to turn a jigsaw of random parts into a tapestry.

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"To have a successful team, you have to have all the pieces," Palmer said. "When I go to games to watch players, I look at the hustle and the effort of the player. Then I try to imagine how they will fit in our program."

Maybe that's the most amazing - and ironic - fact about HCC and its success this season. The Hawks' perfect fit of 12 players comes courtesy of a group of seven who could be considered "misfits."

They are women who played their prep careers at North Hagerstown and Boonsboro, a pair of Washington County schools which have struggled to get above .500 over the past few seasons.

Robin Curley, Mandy Myers and Jade Whipp of Boonsboro have joined forces with Autumn Parson, Marquiela Gantt, Ashley Mason and Dana Kline of North Hagerstown to contribute to HCC's brass ring season after basically leaving the wrong place at the wrong time in high school.

"We weren't bad at Boonsboro," said Curley, a 6-foot-1 center who has found a college-level game at HCC. "We didn't have the surrounding cast. It was a problem. We were strong in some positions and weren't in others. We didn't have enough players who were strong enough and skilled enough for a full team."

Basketball is a game where one player can take over a game but a full plate of contributions is needed to win. Sometimes, talented players on losing teams have a tendency to be overlooked.

"It's not that the players are bad, they just don't have the support around them," Palmer said. "In Washington County, I try to recruit the best players the county is producing. I listen to coaches while trying to predict how they are going to mature both physically and mentally over the next two years."

Palmer has turned those pieces, mixing and matching them to find a big picture. It's a mesh that the former Hubs and Warriors rarely experienced.

"I think in high school, we had the potential to be something but it didn't happen," said Whipp, a spot starter for the Hawks this season. "We didn't have a winning team. We had some good games, but we all had to be clicking to win.

"Here, (Palmer) has a choice of who she wants and she gets to put them together to make a winning team. I came out here and I want to win."

Winning is an interesting proposition, especially considering nearly two-thirds of the Hawks weren't used to it until after high school graduation.

"It was kind of like we went into games and we expected to lose and did," Curley said. "When we won, we celebrated. When we lost, it was nothing. I think the turning point for me was when I first came (to HCC), we played our first game and lost. Nobody acted like they expected it."

Changing confidence from fragile to sturdy standing is one of Palmer's main tasks in shaping a team full of success-impaired players.

"We have to overcome something that happens to an athlete who keeps losing," Palmer said. "They get de-sensitized. The losing doesn't hurt them emotionally.

"We have to let them raise the bar and say, 'It's OK to lose,' while trying to restore expectations, goal setting and the desire to perform successfully. Year in and year out, they have to have the expectation to perform successfully."

And some of that depends on the individual makeup of each player and how they accept their past.

"If you came from a bad team or had a bad record, learning to win isn't hard if you have fun and love playing," Gantt said. "I play and I do it for myself. If I'm not on a winning team, I keep playing because I can only get better."

Losing also can make someone more appreciative of winning.

"I came from Broadfording (Christian Academy), but the year at North Hagerstown, we didn't win but we had a winning mentality," Mason said. "There is a lot of talent in high school, but we didn't have a lot of unity. When you have five players playing together, you can really hurt someone. It's like if you smack someone once, it doesn't hurt much. But if you hit them five times, all together, it hurts a lot."

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