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Hubs reap rewards of last year's trials

January 12, 2007|by DAN KAUFFMAN

When Cara Thompson suffered a torn ACL last season, North Hagerstown's girls rallied around one another and managed to finish the season above .500.

As impressive as that was, the Hubs are just now beginning to reap the full rewards.

Thompson is back this season, fully healthy and leading the way, while the players who stepped in to fill her shoes last season are now complementing her this season, adding talent and depth to North's top-ranked team.

"It all started last year when Cara went down," Hubs coach Barry Brown said. "Everyone had to step up. We had 11 returning players this year and they've all gotten great varsity experience, so going into this season, we knew if we could develop chemistry early, we could have a great season."

A great season is exactly what North (8-1) is well on its way to having. The Hubs' only loss was by three points to Thomas Johnson, and they more than redeemed themselves by winning the Clarksburg Tournament, beating Winston Churchill in the final. Winston Churchill won Maryland Class 4A state titles in 2002 and 2003.

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"The win against Winston Churchill was tremendous for us. It really helped build the kids' confidence to go to Montgomery County and play a team that's won state titles in this decade, to beat them and win a championship," Brown said. "It helped our kids get more confidence to know they can play against anybody if they bring their 'A' game."

Thompson is averaging 12 points, 7.4 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 3.7 steals and a block per game, returning back to her multidimensional form from before the knee injury.

"People think about Cara offensively and she's a great shooter, but when she matched up with (Thomas Johnson star) Kem Wilson, she held her to two points over three quarters," Brown said. "What makes Cara such a great player is she's a team leader and she's so unselfish. She doesn't worry about scoring points, she just does what the team needs to win, and that makes her a special player."

Shawayna Morel - who became the de facto team leader last year after Thompson went down - is playing Robin to Thompson's Batman this season, averaging 9.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.6 steals.

Larae Allen has taken a big step forward, averaging 9.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and an area-best 2.8 blocks.

"Larae is just so improved and such a nice kid to coach," Brown said. "She works hard every day in practice and her teammates love playing with her. From a coach's standpoint, she's a jewel because she's only played for a couple years, and it seems like every time she plays, she gets better."

Then there's the Wheeler sisters, Valentina (7.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 3.1 steals) and Veronica (5.2 points, 2.8 assists and 2 steals off the bench), who give the Hubs even more depth.

"Shawayna is just a fierce competitor," Brown said. "Her, along with Valentina and Veronica, started playing in ninth grade, and all three of them have a shot at playing college ball. That's a testament to all the hard work they've put in."

Rife, Rockets on a roll

With 6-foot-6 center Shane Rife standing tall in the middle, the No. 4 James Buchanan boys basketball team is currently at the center of the PIAA District 3-AAA universe.

The Rockets senior leads the Tri-State area in points per game (21.2) and is second in rebounds (11.2) and blocks (2.8), helping JB race to 11 straight wins, a 12-1 record and the lead in the District 3-AAA power ratings.

Rife was a Herald-Mail All-Area First Team selection last season, during which he averaged 15.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks. He's taken another step forward this season.

"I think the way we've seen him develop is he's never satisfied with where he's at," Rockets coach Larry Strawoet said. "He's always wanting to get better. A lot of kids peak, but in Shane's case, he's continued to try to improve and you see that.

"He's our big man in the middle. He can play inside-out and he's developed on the defensive side. He comes every day ready to work, and he's a leader. When you have a leader like Shane Rife, that's pretty good."

On Dec. 28, Rife reached the 1,000-point milestone in a JB Holiday Tournament victory over Dallas. However, Strawoet said the individual honors are not the most important thing to Rife.

"This is a very positive attribute on Shane's behalf, the individual accolades don't concern him," Strawoet said. "He's more driven by what we do as a team, and that's the maturity that's evolved in him as a player."

The Rockets played without their No. 2 scorer, Brandon Bryan (18.7 points), for six games, but passed the test as role players such as Dion Lehman (12.5 points, 4 assists) and Evan Angle (5.2 rebounds) picked up the slack.

"We always compare it to a puzzle, trying to find the right pieces," Strawoet said. "When Bryan went down, not a whole lot of people gave us a chance to do what we did, but our role players stepped up and did what they needed to do. That's helped our bench become deeper."

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