Everyone reaching for brass ring to be county's best girls basketball team

December 02, 2011|By DAN KAUFFMAN |
  • Washington County Preps Previews
Washington County Preps Previews

If ever a Washington County girls basketball season was shrouded in uncertainty, it’s this one.

Who’s the team to beat? No one knows for sure.

Is it Smithsburg? The Leopards reached the Maryland Class 1A state final two years ago and made the 1A West final and finished 23-2 last season, but lost 2010-11 Herald-Mail Player of the Year Katie Sprecher and two other All-County performers (Sara Rishell and Taylor Belella) to graduation.

“We’re just so different this year,” Smithsburg coach Katy Barnhart said. “I think they have high expectations for themselves because these girls are used to winning and don’t want to go down a losing path. ... We’re a totally different team, but we have our own strengths that are different from last year’s team.”

Is it North Hagerstown? The Hubs have been Smithsburg’s top county challenger the past two seasons and went 15-7 a year ago, but they, too, lost a lot of talent — including All-County honorees Quielanna Gantt and Akatshi Osongo. On the bright side, All-County First Team star Iman Scott returns for her senior season.

“The focus is fundamentals. We found some of the new girls didn’t have the fundamentals,” North coach Cyndi Benjamin said. “It’s kind of rebuilding the fundamentals and getting them all to mesh and play together. Before, we had 12 players who had played together three or more years. Now we have two.”

Looking for a new challenger to the county throne? South Hagerstown — being coached by Nate Naylor this season as Amy Deeds is out on maternity leave — has two super sophomores in Katrice Dickson (an All-County First Team honoree) and Chelsea Scott, a transfer from Williamsport.

“We want to play uptempo, pressure defense and make teams play at a pace they don’t want to play at,” Naylor said.

Clear Spring has two good scorers back in seniors Jess Barnhart and Dominique Forsman. Boonsboro returns eight players and can’t be overlooked. And Williamsport has a young group of girls coach Chris Malott has high hopes for.

If one thing seems certain, it’s Heritage Academy’s spot near the top of the Mason Dixon Christian Conference. The Eagles return all their starters from a team that went 19-3 and finished second in the MDCC Tournament to New Life for the second straight year.


Sam Connelly returns to the varsity bench — he coached the Warriors boys in the mid-2000s — and while he lost All-County First Team guard Ashley Smothers to graduation, he’s got a lot of experience to work with.

Six seniors return from last year’s squad that finished 10-13 — forward Amber Smith (7.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.9 steals, 2.3 assists per game last year), guard Ashlyn Hawbaker (7.3 points), guards Tori Poffenberger, Kayla Payne and Kim Seabright and forward-center Morgan Tucker.

“We’re gonna get up and down the floor, look to push the ball and pick up with some defensive pressure trying to get the game going,” Connelly said. “As many kids as I want to get involved, that’s how we’ll look to play. We’ll look to run, get the ball inside and shoot more free throws than the other team.”

Junior Shannon O’Brien and sophomore Steph Pantos add depth inside, while sophomore Claudia Jenkins transferred in from Brunswick and should get playing time.

“I think the important thing for us is to take care of the basketball and work hard on the defensive end,” Connelly said. “We’re going to look to Tori and Ashlyn to scores the ball as well as Steph and Shannon. Amber defensively, she’s just so quick. Claudia also will stand out on defense. She’s going to be right there as the first girl off the bench.”


Dana Gonzales’ Lions — who went 8-19 last season — have All-County First Team scoring machine Katie Connolly (17.3 points per game last year) back for her senior year. She opened the season with 34 points against Highland View and averaged 24 per game in her first three contests.

Sophomore guard Jade Boone also has been productive to start the campaign, averaging 14.7 points with games of 20 points against Highland View and 18 against New Life.

After that, it becomes a numbers battle, with junior guard Aspen Flook the only other healthy returnee — junior Gabrielle Kolb is out for a few more weeks with a sprained ankle.

Clear Spring

Adam Hoopengardner’s Blazers should be better than their 3-20 record from a year ago. Barnhart averaged 13.5 points a year ago and Forsman added 14.7 points per game through seven games before leaving the team for undisclosed reasons.

“They both bring a scoring option every night they step on the court. As long as they play under control and play a team game, there’s not too many people who can stay with them,” Hoopengardner said. “But it’s not about playing as individuals, it’s playing as a team, and that’s where we’ve had our problems in the past.”

Seven other seniors — guards Heather Schlotterbeck, Amber Forrest, Bethany Bowers and Alexa Mills, forwards Morgan Purdham and Brittany Ray, and center Becca Dunning — return, and sophomore Sam Staley is competing for a starting spot on the front line.

“Hopefully this year with the experience we have, we’re looking to have one of the more successful years Clear Spring has had in the last several years,” Hoopengardner said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to eek out a few more wins because of that.”

Grace Academy

Larry Lorshbaugh’s Knights — 15-10 a year ago — will lean heavily on senior forward Kelsey Koontz, who averaged 10.5 points and 10.4 rebounds a year ago.

“We need to get her to face the basket more this year,” Lorshbaugh said. “We don’t have the ballhandlers, so Kelsey is going to do a lot of that for us, plus she’s a good shooter and can slash to the basket and get a lot of rebounds without being the center. She still plays center on defense a lot. I think she’ll score big almost every game.”

Senior center Meghan Broadwater, junior guard Caitlin Cox and sophomore point guard Allie Cox round out the returnees. Junior forward Becca House and sophomore Allison Lehman (a transfer from Shalom Christian) will see plenty of action.

“We have five freshmen on the team,” Lorshbaugh said. “(We had) 37 turnovers against Goretti — if we do that every night, we’re going to be in trouble, but if we can handle the ball we’ll be in every game we play. It’s going to be a learning year for everybody and a year I think we play close to .500.”


The biggest challenge for Todd Ruppenthal’s Panthers — 8-15 last season — will be replacing All-County First Team center Maureen Leavy, who averaged 14.1 points, 15.7 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game as a senior last year. Ruppenthal believes senior Lyndsay Himes and junior Sara Wagner can fill those shoes.

“With Lyndsay and Sara combined, we may get what we got out of Maureen,” Ruppenthal said. “I think we’re going to end up with the same points and rebounds, just with two people.”

Senior Tiffany Younker will run the offense at the point, with junior guard Alisa Shives capable of providing points as a shooter. Junior forward Joan Leavy returns, and three newcomers — juniors Emily Harvey and Morgan Bain, and sophomore Kristen Shoemaker — should see playing time.

“(The goal is) a winning season,” Ruppenthal said. “We’re young, with only two seniors and 10 juniors. Were a little deeper than we have been, a lot of girls are playing well in practice. We’re a little more athletic and will be able to run more bodies at teams.”

Heritage Academy

First-year coach Dana Henson could not have walked into a much better situation, with every key player back — including three All-County honorees back for their senior seasons in forwards Rachel Clarke (11.8 points, 12.1 rebounds) and Jessica Gaylor (12.5 points, 6.0 rebounds) and guard Callie Butts (10.0 points, 4.3 assists, 4.3 steals).

“They’ve all played together since middle school. I was their middle school coach,” Henson said.” Just with their experience working together, they know each other. This year we’re able to go into more complicated offenses and defenses.”

Senior Kathleen Kidd joins Butts in the backcourt, while junior Kara Stamper should make an impact inside. Sophomore Rose Clarke can play inside or outside.

“Rachel and Kara, I’ve definitely seen more consistency with their play down low,” Henson said. “I feel like they’re working better together. Kara’s the big one, her shots are much more consistent and she’s more aggressive this season. ... Our goal is to get it down to those two, and Jessica, Kathleen and Callie all have that ability.”

North Hagerstown

This could prove to be the Hubs’ most challenging season in several years. However, Scott — who averaged 11.2 points and 6.8 rebounds a year ago — should be a steady leader.

“She’s a senior and she’s not only going to be a leader points-wise, but she’s like having another coach who can actually go into the game,” Benjamin said. “She knows what I expect and she can play all five positions.”

Senior Autumn Fisher will have an increased role inside — “between her and Iman, they’re going to split the majority of our scoring at times,” Benjamin said. Senior Erika Kline and sophomore Samiyah Williams are the only other returnees. Sophomore guard Crystal McLeod will be thrown into the fire.

“Erika’s real good at grabbing rebounds and has a great shot, especially near the baseline,” Benjamin said. Samiyah’s got great defense and she’s not afraid to take a shot when she’s open. She’s very aggressive. Crystal’s quick and has good ballhandling skills. She’s not afriad to drive to the basket, and even though she’s only 5 feet tall, she gets a lot of rebounds and gets the ball up the floor quickly.”

Saint James

First-year Saints coach Louis Canelli has two major holes to fill in his starting lineup, as senior Taylor Deveaux graduated from last year’s 13-6 squad and Kayla Peterson — an All-County First Team honoree as a freshman after averaging 10.5 points and 11.1 rebounds last year — transferred.

“We were coming into the season hoping to win the IPSL,” Canelli said. “It will certainly be tougher losing Kayla, but I still have that hope. It should be a successful season with six returning players.”

Once again, the attention will be on Jordan Wills, who enters her senior season having averaged 10.2 points a year ago.

“Hopefully, Jordan fulfills that (leader’s) role,” Canelli said. “Kayla stole the spotlight last year and she was surprised by that. She certainly has the talent. She’s a basketball player. This is her season, and it’s her last one, so we’re hoping for good things.”

Senior Margaret Bacon is the floor leader at point guard, and senior guard Lena Tilsworth “is our spirit,” Canelli said. Sophomore Kerri Kline will start at shooting guard and will be looked to for offense. Junior Lisle Bruns will play at forward and sophomore Madison Fahey will see time at the point.


A group of eight seniors — six of them returnees — will try to keep the Leopards at the top of the MVAL Antietam. They are led by All-County honoree Alexis Andrukat at point guard and Danielle Harbaugh inside.

“It’s nice to have an experienced point guard back. Lexi’s an excellent floor leader, she sees the floor very well and is a threat to score. She’s the total package,” Barnhart said. “Danielle’s physical, rebounds well, finishes around the basket and makes free throws. I think she’ll be a major contributor.”

Elisa Owens was slowed during her junior year as she was still recovering from ACL surgery, but she showed explosive scoring ability as a sophomore and could be an X-factor.

“I look for her to do big things,” Barnhart said. “She works hard and is an excellent scorer. She plays year-round and I look for her to step into a leadership role.”

The other three returning seniors are guards Logan Bachtell and Apryl Lee and forward Krystal Holl. Seniors Jamie Scott, a forward, and Sarah Shives, a guard, are newcomers.

South Hagerstown

Nate Naylor plans on taking a page or two from his father — Rebels boys coach Kevin Naylor — as South should fare much better than last year’s 4-18 record.

“Dad has a similar sort of style to the way we want to play, the way they get up and down the floor and put pressure on you,” Nate Naylor said. “I saw how he managed that team (last year) and took it one game at a time and not to overlook anybody. I think we can try to play that way this year and put a lot of pressure on people.”

In addition to Dickson (11.4 points, 7.6 rebounds last year) and Scott (9.0 points), Tayana Stewart is another sophomore who could make headlines as she moves up from JV. Senior forward Alexis Small and junior point guard Dajiah Johnson return.

“I got to coach (Dickson and Scott) all summer in AAU ball,” Naylor said. “Chelsea’s defense impresses me so much, that’s an underrated part of her game. She’s long and she can guard guards. Kat and Tayana can do a lot of scoring for us and Chelsea can be our third scorer and focus on her defense.”

St. Maria Goretti

Todd Rideout’s Gaels got off to a 4-0 start — with Grace Academy Tipoff and Lions Classic tournament titles — thanks in large part to sophomore shooting guard Severija Narkute, a Lithuanian exchange student who scored 103 points (24.8 per game) in those four games.

“She’s coming in with experience shooting,” Rideout said. “She’s a weapon and she gives us balance.”

Sophomore T.J. Tillman, who transferred from Tuscarora, has been effective off the bench so far.

Sisters Beth Eich, a senior, and Abby Eich, a freshman, play in the post. Senior Kris Cronise returns at forward and junior Maggie Murray and sophomore Ann Marie Sullivan return in the backcourt. Sophomore Abby Pasierb and freshman Ama Mitchual add depth in the backcourt.

“We’ve got a good combination with upperclassmen and underclassmen,” Rideout said. “We’re looking to go inside-outside. We were going mostly inside with Colleen (Costello, a multiple-time All-County First Team honoree who graduated) last year, but this year everybody can give us contributions.”


Malott doesn’t have the group of girls he envisioned at the end of last season — what with Scott transferring to South and senior point guard Chelsea Myers still recovering from a torn ACL — but he still likes what he has.

Senior forward Casey Arnone and junior center Stacey Christy are the top returnees. Junior shooting guard Victoria Key — who starred on the JV team last year before leading the varsity team in scoring in each of its two playoff games — will get more chances to shine.

“She’s a 3-point girl, she can shoot a little bit,” Malott said.

Other newcomers include senior guard Jordan Younker (who played as a freshman and sophomore), sophomore point guard Erin Palmer, sophomore Courtney Malott and junior center Hannah Kastelein.

“Jordan’s going to help a lot. She’s a ballhandler, plays defense and looks to score a little bit as a penetrator,” Chris Malott said. “It’s going to be tough to get Erin off the court. Casey and Courtney play well together, they’re athletic and pass the ball well. We’ve missed that senior leader the last couple years and Casey’s going to provide that. Hannah’s about 6-2 and I think she has a good upside. She’s rebounding well, and when she gets her offensive game together, she’s going to be a player. We’re going to play seven or eight deep, maybe nine.”

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