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Leopard girls make final stop on enjoyable ride

March 08, 2002|BY DAN SPEARS

CATONSVILLE, Md. - Jenelle Stouffer wasn't about to miss one of the best rides of her life. She just hadn't realized it had already started.

"I don't think all of it hit me until senior night," said Stouffer, one of eight seniors on the Smithsburg girls basketball team. "Then I realized we'd better win because I'd probably never play basketball again in my life."

Stouffer and the Leopards travel to another Class 1A state tournament this weekend at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, but not as spectators. After three straight losses in the region final, this class of seniors won the big game, and will play Mardela at 7 p.m. in today's semifinals.

"They're the ones that do everything with this group," coach Jimmy Powell said. "They're the ones organizing the pizza parties."

Whether Smithsburg celebrates a supreme victory or just a plain old defeat this weekend, it will still be celebrating, thanks in large part to a graduating class that's been through regular-season success and postseason heartache.

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"When we went up there on Friday (for the West region final), some of the girls went right to that spot on the floor," Powell said in reference to the team's last-second 1999 regional final loss to Allegany. "They pointed at it and said, 'That's the one.'"

They didn't let it happen again last Friday against an undefeated Southern Garrett team that was last year's state runner-up. After getting a nine-point halftime lead, Smithsburg made the right plays for a win.

It's been that way most of the year for the 22-3 Leopards. Close games at halftime have been blown open, or sealed late, because of the seniors and their observations.

"We go into the half and they can suggest things to (Powell)," Smithsburg coach Teresa Bachtell said. "That's leadership. Some people can know what's up, but just sit there and not talk."

"But he won't listen to us on the court," several players countered with a laugh.

"Yes, but he listens at halftime," Bachtell said with a smile. "They have a voice and he listens. That's because they're seniors."

It's also because they know what they're doing. With guards Katy Powell and Eariel Gholson dominating the scoring column, teams of every ability - including 3A state semifinalist Urbana - have thrown every version of the triangle-and-2 at Smithsburg. All of them but two, Middletown and Walkersville (twice), came out with a loss.

"That was the thing on Friday," Jimmy Powell said. "That helped us a lot. I think the girls thought we could play with them because of who we had already played.

"They didn't think it was a huge upset."

Just like winning today against 24-0 Mardela wouldn't be, either.

"I just feel like we're ready to play right now," forward Michelle Feiser said.

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