By the time Megan Sterling was an eighth-grader, she knew she was going to play basketball for River Hill. So that year, when the Hawks reached the state final four, she soaked everything in while watching from the stands at RAC Arena on the University of Maryland, Baltimore County campus.
"They got to states and lost that year (2009), but I went to all of the games that were at UMBC," Sterling said. "I started practicing with some of the members from that team in eighth grade and I became friends with the girls who would be the leaders on the team."
She didn't know it then, but just a a short time later she would be playing on that same floor after helping River Hill reach back-to-back state championship games.
She also didn't know that she would become the driving force behind River Hill's success this season, leading the county's public school players with an average of 14.6 points per game to go along with 4.7 steals and 3.1 assists. Sterling also led the county with 45 three-pointers.
For her efforts in leading the Hawks to the county championship, Class 3A East regional crown and an appearance in the 3A state title game, Sterling has been selected the Columbia Flier/Howard County Times Player of the Year.
"I didn't think that would be possible when I was a little skin-and-bones eighth-grader," said Sterling, a third-year captain.
Sterling made the team her freshman year but played sparingly. Since then, however, she has been a leader on and off the court. She was joined by three other freshmen on that 2009-10 squad but, by the following winter, she was the only one still on the team.
"Because our program is demanding, it can be a little much for freshmen," River Hill coach Teresa Waters said. "Meg was the only one who continued to play and exceeded the high standards that were set."
Sterling will be the first to tell you just how much hard work she's given to the program.
"I understand because it was really tough with lots of long practices and it's a huge time commitment," she said. "I've been playing basketball since I can remember so I couldn't imagine just giving it up. If I had, I wouldn't have been able to make it to states twice."
"Meg is a player that has been first in every sprint, every year," Waters said. "She's soft-spoken but there is a lot of substance in her words. Her teammates give her respect for her consistent demeanor and hard work."
The 5-foot-7 shooting guard basically lived in the gym all summer preparing for her final season. Each day she ran, lifted weights and put up countless jumpers — all before even going to practice with the Maryland Sting on the AAU circuit.
Fueled by the memory of the last game of her junior season, Sterling knew she had to get better. River Hill advanced to the 3A state title game a year ago before falling to Aberdeen.
But before she could think about returning to UMBC a final time, there were other goals that the Hawks set. After seeing Glenelg earn the past two county titles, Sterling and her teammates wanted to reclaim the crown they had last won in 2009-10.
"(Coach Waters) kept reminding us that our program had so many county titles and we wanted that back," Sterling said. "I wanted to make sure that as a team, by my senior year, we'd get the county title back."
River Hill won their first nine league games by an average of 30 points before running into Reservoir, which handed the Hawks their most lopsided loss of the season with a 49-24 decision.
In the very next game, with the Hawks trailing Glenelg by three in the closing seconds, Sterling made a season-changing play.
"I wasn't having the best game, and I don't know how it happened, but somehow with seconds left Vicki (Rowe) was able to get the steal and threw the ball to me," Sterling explained. "Somehow the shot went in and we ended up winning in overtime."
After that, River Hill ran the table through the rest of the county schedule and finished with an 18-1 mark. Sterling averaged 10.3 points in three 3A East playoff games to help the Hawks earn their second straight regional title.
Then the Hawks downed Friendly, 52-43, in the state semifinals to set up a rematch with Aberdeen.