For Holly Ismail, coaching high school girls basketball is as much about developing relationships with her players as it is about X's and O's.
Ismail helped several of her charges to learn new roles at Patterson Mill this season, and she made sure they became comfortable with them. A cohesive, young team emerged with the first girls basketball state championship in school history.
Ismail helped senior Stephanie Ehly and freshmen Khayla Mitchell and Chyna Latimer develop in new roles and mesh with juniors Qalea Ismail (her daughter) and Sam Herman. The Huskies lost five post players, so Ehly and Latimer moved down and played key roles in the 33-30 state Class 2A championship victory over three-time defending champion Calvert.
"It was just trying to juggle who's going to be able to help us in that area, looking at their talent level and, with a lot of new players, trying to put them in spots," said Ismail, a longtime Amateur Athletic Union girls and boys coach. "Initially, a number of the kids weren't comfortable where we were telling them they needed to be. I'm a real relationship coach. I think it's important especially with girls to work with them and talk to them and make them feel comfortable."
Things turned around with a 45-43 overtime win at No. 6 City to open the New Year. For the coach, however, the Huskies really seemed to hit their stride in a 56-53 win at C. Milton Wright on Feb. 20.
Then they had to overcome a spate of injuries between that game and the regional final. Fortunately, everyone was ready for the state semifinal and the Huskies defeated Walkersville, 62-44, to reach the final for the first time in their third straight trip to the state tournament.
"All these kids, because they were so young, a big piece was making sure they knew I believed in them," Ismail said. "They just had to keep working hard and keep learning from the upperclassmen. I told them in the locker room before we went out (to play the state semifinal), "Yes, we're young, but we have three experienced kids who have been here three times before and just follow their lead' and I think their chemistry was huge."
Ismail, 6 feet 4 and a former center at Syracuse, said assistant coach, Brian Tallon and junior varsity coach Mike West deserved credit for the Huskies' success. In two years at Patterson Mill, Ismail is 42-11.
As a high school player in Connecticut, she played on three state championship teams.
"Thinking about that for me and my teammates who are still my friends to this day – one of my very best friends was my point guard – just knowing what that feels like and knowing that's something they will keep with them forever was so special to me. I wanted that for them."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun