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Nothing is half-baked about Hawks

January 28, 2008|By BOB PARASILITI

The Hagerstown Community College women's basketball team makes coach Marlys Palmer feel like Betty Crocker.

"Sometimes things just all come together and it comes out like a Pillsbury Bake-Off winner," Palmer said with a smile.

The Hawks have definitely been upper crust this season. HCC is off to its best-ever start with a 17-0 record, using a unique mixture of youth and unselfishness to go with sophomore development to get blue-ribbon results.

HCC has earned its slice of the national spotlight by holding down the No. 7 ranking in the NJCAA Division II poll for the last three weeks. The Hawks will go for win No. 18 when they host Northhampton tonight at 7.

"Seventeen-and-oh ... I just wouldn't have expected it," said Palmer, who is in her 29th year at HCC. "We had only four returning sophomores with only (point guard Teonna) Jewell as the only starter and none of the others having much impact in big games. We are a pretty young team with eight freshmen and four sophomores."

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The sum of the Hawks' parts has come from the plus signs that hold the entire equation together.

HCC plays without one patented, consistently high-scoring go-to star. The unselfish nature of the team and the innate drive to succeed have overridden the need to have a statistical leader. Every game has produced a different star with a different contribution to win.

"So far, I have just had a lot of different people step up, especially if you look at the close games we played," Palmer said.

The list of victories -- and accomplishments -- reads like a roll call.

· Globe (70-56) -- "Cara Thompson was instrurmental and so was (Amy) Rhoderick," Palmer said.

· Clark State (71-63) -- "In Ohio, it was Shawayna Morel and Alex Baker."

· Frederick (62-59) -- "Valentina Wheeler was exhausted from all the defense she played and Thompson and Alicia (Myers) hit big shots."

· Potomac State (75-63) and Prince George's (62-44) -- "Jewell took control of the game.

"It could be anybody and the thing that impresses me is the number of freshmen who have stepped up," Palmer said.

Maybe the biggest key to the Hawks' success is there was no "honeymoon" period of adjustment between the freshmen and sophomores.

"I thought there might be some ego issues," Palmer said. "We didn't (have any). It's just in their character. It isn't anything a coach can do or teach."

Palmer is quick to mention another aspect of the Hawks that she can't coach. It is an aspect which might come as a surprise, especially in the offensive world of basketball.

"This team loves to play defense," Palmer said. "They beg me to play man because they want to go out there and shut the other person down. That has been a key."

Palmer used HCC's two-point win over Montgomery-Rockville on Dec. 10 as a prime example.

"It was big," Palmer said. "We were down and we called timeout. We decided to go to man defense to try to stop their main scorer. Myers said she wanted to take her. (Myers) was six inches shorter than her, but she shut her down. She may have scored two points the rest of the way.

"These players are competitors. They love to play. You can't take credit for that as coaches."

The sum total of HCC's parts has put the Hawks in a position to do some great things this season.

"This the first time since the 2001-02 season that we have a chance to win (the Region XX title)," Palmer said.

Unfortunately for HCC, though, the undefeated record and national ranking will mean little once tournament time begins. There, one loss ends a season and anyone can beat anyone else.

"This team does compare to some of the ones we have had in the past, but we aren't the only good team," Palmer said. "In the 1980s and '90s, there was one dominant team and then a gap. Now, there are more good teams out there before you hit that gap."

Potomac State is the defending region champion. Garrett has one loss. Allegany and Cecil are strong teams. And Frederick is always a handful for Palmer and the Hawks.

"This team is legit," Palmer said. "We have a chance to win, but there will be four or five other teams who will be there, too."

That will be the time for the Hawks to have their cake and eat it, too.

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