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Leopards' cast grows into roles

March 13, 2003|by DAN KAUFFMAN

kauffman@herald-mail.com

SMITHSBURG - A year after eight seniors led Smithsburg's girls basketball team to the Class 1A state title game, the Leopards have returned to the rarefied air only a few believed possible.

Riding the senior leadership of Katy Powell, Smithsburg (17-6) is once again one of 1A's final four teams. The Leopards will travel to University of Maryland-Baltimore County on Friday evening for a semifinal matchup with Pocomoke (23-1).

"Last year's team was good and they knew it," Leopards coach Jimmy Powell said. "They won by 20 and it was no big deal. This year's team can win by one and they'll be jumping on top of each other.

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"Before this season, our big goals were to get to the regional final and win 15 games. We had lowered our expectations ... but the one common denominator is hard work."

While last year's team featured three bonafide scoring threats in Katy Powell, Eariel Gholson and Michelle Feiser, Powell has guided this year's underclassmen-filled squad to unforseen heights, averaging close to 24 points per game while becoming the school's and Monocacy Valley Athletic League's career leading scorer.

"It's been a great experience for me becoming a leader, not just on the floor, but also vocally," Katy Powell said. "A lot of these players are first-year players, and a lot of them have stepped up. I'm really proud of them."

"If Katy has one legacy, it's teaching these kids how to win, play hard and play with grit," Jimmy Powell said. "The kids respect her, and her words carry a lot of weight."

Powell has received help from Tara Knable. The junior center has fully recovered from a torn knee ligament last season and has posted double figures in scoring in each of Smithsburg's last seven games - including double-doubles in the regional semifinal against Williamsport and the regional final against Southern Garrett.

"We're getting down to the nitty-gritty, and it's do or die for us," Knable said. "Katy's a great player, but she needs help, so I started going to work down low."

"She has confidence in her game," Katy Powell said. "She has a lot of size, and that's something we haven't had in the past. She's stepped it up at the right time, and she's come a long way."

Freshmen Tara Bywaters and Shannon Fowkes have made strides in their first varisty seasons, Bywaters providing another offensive threat and Fowkes with her perimeter defense. Sophomore Candice Stanford rounds out the starting five and can play any of the five positions, and junior Heather Bywaters is capable of scoring as the team's sixth girl.

"We have a very young team, and we're excited," Knable said. "From the beginning, we believed in us and the coaches believed in us, and we proved to people we're a good team."

Pocomoke is the next test for these Leopards, and the Warriors aren't likely to give Smithsburg any breaks with their up-tempo, chaotic style of play.

"They play 32 minutes of pressure basketball. The only time they don't press is during timeouts," Jimmy Powell said. "We have to take care of the basketball, and when we have the opportunity to score against their press, we have to take advantage or else they'll fall into a 2-3 zone, and we've had trouble against that all year."

"We were happy to win a region title ... but on Monday we went back to the drawing board," Katy Powell said. "We had two ways we could go, we could be happy to make it back to the semis, or we could put the work in this week to try to make the state final."

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