Motivation may be the River Hill girls basketball team’s biggest strength this weekend when they return to the Retriever Activities Center (RAC) on the University of Maryland, Baltimore County campus for the Class 3A state final four.
The Hawks will face Friendly at 9 p.m. on Thursday night in the semifinals.
River Hill advanced to the title game last season before falling to Aberdeen, 62-48. Led by five senior leaders (Meg Sterling, Vicki Rowe, Jordan Masker, Andrea Nichols and Tyler Triplett), the team is laser focused in finishing what they started a year ago.
“We know the feeling of getting to states and losing. That was probably the worst feeling ever,” Rowe said after River Hill won the 3A East regional crown last week. “I really don’t want to repeat that. As a senior, I don’t have a next year so the team has to finish our business.”
The Hawks (22-3) will have a tall task if they want to be the last team standing. They enter the four-team bracket as the smallest in stature without a single player standing six-foot or taller.
Each of the other three squads have at least one six-footer, Damascus had three.
Rowe (5-foot-10) and Masker (5-foot-11) will have to be strong in the post against the taller competition.
Hawks coach Teresa Waters believes that her team is up for the challenge.
“They understand the significance of boxing it. It’s crucial,” she said. “Height you can’t teach but its not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”
Sterling leads River Hill in scoring with 15.2 points per game to go along with nearly five steals. Juniors Julia and Jenna Collins both add nine points per contest and add six boards per contest. Jenna had a team-high 12 points against Aberdeen.
“The experience of being here will be helpful but we’re a different team from last year,” Waters said. “The 3A is often times the toughest bracket. We look at this as a great opportunity to be here. We’re going to put our shoes on, lace them up and give it everything we’ve got.”
Here is information on the other teams in the 3A final four. The state championship game is scheduled for Saturday, March 9 at 8 p.m.
Last state appearance: 1997
The Patriots of Prince George’s County enter Thursday night’s semifinals on fire, winning their last 12 games. The team boasts two Division I-bound players in Chayla Lewis (Central Connecticut State) and Janay Carter (Delaware State). Lewis averages 16.5 points and 10.3 rebounds each time out, while Carter (6-foot-1) adds 11.3 points and nearly 10 boards.
“We’ve played extremely hard through a great conference schedule,” Friendly coach Carroll Holmes said. “We’re excited for the opportunity to compete for a state title.”
River Hill will have to find a way to combat the Patriots’ length and prowess on the offensive and defensive glass. Another staple of Prince George’s basketball is the transition game. Friendly (20-4) likes to get up-and-down the court quickly, so the Hawks will have to be get on defense to limit fast break opportunities.
Lewis is coming off a 21-point effort against Westlake in the 3A South regional finals where the Patriots outscored their opponent, 22-4, in the first quarter.
“What we know is that great defense and rebounding wins championships,” Holmes said. “We like to get up-and-down the floor and allow our defense to generate our offense.”
Last state appearance: 2012
Entering the tournament, the Eagles (23-3) are certainly the heavy favorite. The program is looking to repeat as state champions and reach the finals for the third consecutive year.
In last season’s 3A title game, University of Maryland-bound center Brionna Jones had a game-high 25 points and 13 rebounds to lead Aberdeen past River Hill.
Jones tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee back in early January but the Eagles haven’t skipped a beat in her absence thanks to kid sister Stephanie, a freshman.
Stephanie Jones – a 6-foot-1 guard – leads the Harford County school with 12.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per game.
Four of the five starters for Aberdeen are underclassman, however, which may be a factor once the young players step on the floor at UMBC under the bright lights.
“We expect them to handle things like they do every other game,” Eagles coach Amber Milnes said. “When they step on the court they know it’s all about business. So we expect there to be nothing different this week. There is still senior leadership. Even though Bri is injured, she’s still a big part of our team.”
Aberdeen has gone 50-4 over the past two seasons, only losing to nationally ranked Riverdale Baptist (three times) and Hoover from Alabama.
“With the schedule that we’ve played, it doesn’t seem like we’ve had a day off,” Milnes said. “By this point in the season, the girls are very well tuned. The pressure of defending is in the background. It’s not something they think about or concentrate on.”
Last state appearance: 2004
The Hornets present a formidable challenge for Aberdeen in their semifinals matchup because they rank first among the four semifinalists in scoring (66.4 points per game) and rebounding (46 boards per contest).
Damascus has height not only in the paint but also on the perimeter. Kelli Prange – a 6-foot-4 center – paces the team with 16 points and seven rebounds per night. Guard Jenna Kaufman (5-foot-11) contributes 10 points per game, while Becky Barrett (6-foot-1) leads the Hornets in rebounding with over 10 each game.
“We like to go up-tempo offensively but we’ve been successful this year using our size,” coach Steve Pisarski said. “We’ve been able to do a good job rebounding and that helps getting the ball out so we can go.”