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Defending champ Lions set for state semifinals

March 12, 2004|by DAN KAUFFMAN

kauffman@herald-mail.com

LAUREL, Md. - Given a chance to reflect, Walkersville girls basketball coach Mike Mathis smiled.

Why wouldn't he? Mathis has been at the helm of the most successful run in the program's history. Walkersville enters today's Maryland Class 2A semifinal game against Baltimore City College as the defending champion and winner of 45 straight games dating to early last season.

"It's been great to think of where this program was seven years ago when I started to where it is now," said Mathis, who owns a 125-43 record in those seven seasons. "It's just a great achievement."

Walkersville (25-0) will face City College (22-2) at 5 p.m. today at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County.

The Lions breezed through the regular season and the 2A West playoffs, with their toughest tests coming in three games against Middletown. Walkersville won the regular-season meetings by 10 and eight points and the 2A West final by six, 48-42.

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Last year, the Lions were the new girls on the block, making their first appearance at the state tournament. This year, Walkersville has experience on its side - the experience of last season's title run as well as that from having a senior-laden squad, with everyone but Koffi Harrison back from last year's championship team.

"(The experience) will relieve us of some of the nervousness we had last year and hopefully allow us to be more focused," Mathis said.

Chelsea Trout - a Herald-Mail All-Area First Team selection last season - leads the way for the Lions, averaging 14.2 points and 4.9 rebounds per game while shooting 48 percent from the field and a staggering 44 percent from beyond the arc.

"She showed great senior leadership," Mathis said. "Her shooting has improved, she's gotten better rebounding and her defense is really good. She's gotten better every year."

D.J. Vernoy has helped fill the void left by Harrison's graduation. The senior point guard averages 10.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.4 assists.

"She's had a phenomenal year," Mathis said. "She's our point guard and our leading rebounder. She was really focused on what we needed and what we needed was rebounding after losing Koffi and her 14 rebounds a game. (Vernoy) stepped up."

Gina Casadei (8.9 points, 3.2 rebounds), Ronetta Walker (7.6 points, 6.3 rebounds) and Emily Lancaster (5.6 points, 5.2 rebounds) give Walkersville more senior leadership on the floor.

The Lions won last year's title with defense, holding their two opponents to 37 and 32 points. Walkersville gives up only 31.2 points per game.

"It comes down to the fundamentals of basketball," Mathis said. "If we play great defense and rebound the basketball, we have a great shot to win."

Walkersville will be tested by City College, which won the Baltimore city title after snapping Dunbar's 84-game home winning streak. The Knights have won 21 in a row, score 57.2 points per game and have allowed opponents only 28.8 points per game.

"If we can keep (the score) down (in the 30s) considering the opposition we'll be playing, I'll be happy," Mathis said.

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