Already assured at least a share of the Howard County girls basketball championship heading into Friday’s regular season finale against Marriotts Ridge, Howard was shooting for the record books.
The Lions (17-2, 20-2) had never won sole possession of a modern era league championship in school history, making a potential win against the Mustangs the pinnacle of an already extraordinary season.
And, sure enough, like they had done all winter, coach Scott Robinson’s girls rose to the occasion. The team downed Marriotts Ridge with ease, 55-28.
“I think it means a lot to the school,” said Robinson of his squad’s accomplishment. “From the beginning of the year, when I met with the girls and the parents, I told them that no game was going to be easy. There is a lot of parity in our county.”
Getting to this point wasn't easy for the Lions, who were heavily favored by many coaches in the county before the season began. They won their first 12 games in a row before two potential season-altering hiccups had them playing from behind.
Luckily for the Lions, resiliency is not one of their shortcomings.
“They bounce back from adversity very quickly,” said Robinson. “To play 22 games, at some point, when there’s a lot of parity in the league, you reach rough patches.”
Those two blemishes on an otherwise flawless résumé came at the hands of Centennial and River Hill in back-to-back defeats. The issues the Lions had to deal with in those mid-January stumbles were of high priority, and the team needed to find a way to turn it around. Realistically, Robinson and his coaching staff knew that the team needed to win its remaining games for a chance at the title.
To win at Reservoir and Atholton was tough enough, but to welcome Centennial in a rematch and a budding Wilde Lake squad looking for a quality win was a daunting task. With a long way to climb, the Lions finished their season with a “one game at a time” mentality.
That mindset ultimately paid off.
“For any team to be successful, there’s going to be bumps in the road,” Robinson said. “Winning those last eight games was critical. We just prepared for every individual game.”
Jayda Gilmore (10.6 points per game), Sydney Biniak (9.8) and Berit Batterton (8.7) led the Lions offensively, along with a supporting cast that stepped up when called upon.
“Jayda is such a prolific scorer,” said Robinson. “It’s a good mix when we have the three really good ball handlers, and Jayda as the shooter. She has that jump shot, and can get in the lane over traffic.
“Sydney is such an athlete,” he continued. “She can get a mismatch and bring the ball up the court. Teams had trouble pressuring us. When they tried, we thrived on that.”
Putting points on the board was never a question for Robinson. Entering this season, the team knew it would be without ace defender Jade Walls, who was unable to play due to an injury. Her absence was telling, to the point where the Lions' coaching staff was unsure just how the girls would respond.
Save for the team’s scoring leaders’ ability to play both sides of the ball, seniors Emma Hoesman and Anne Kinsey also stepped up their defensive game. Batterton and Biniak provided the support in the paint, while a rotation that included Emileigh Scott, Catherine Sims, and Natalie Talley occupied any void left behind.
Of the team’s 22 games this season, only four times did the opponent surpass 40 points. In those four contests, the Lions were still 3-1.
The veteran Robinson, who came to coach on Old Annapolis Road in 2010, has seen his group of three seniors blossom into gifted students and players. The coach said it has been a pleasure to watch their development and ability to work as a team.
Since the beginning of the year, Howard’s only goal was to play for as long as possible. Robinson said his girls never focused on one game specifically, opting to treat every opponent as a potential threat. Now, looking to add another “first” to their season with a 4A state championship, the Lions don’t want a repeat of their mid-season struggles. The squad was awarded the top seed in Section II of the North regional bracket, but that doesn’t mean they are overlooking anyone along the way.
“The girls learned, and are still learning, from what prevented us from winning those games,” Robinson said.