It has been a long climb to the championship heights. But for the 10 girls on the North Carroll Huskies girls seventh grade travel basketball team, assistant coach Mike McElwaine and head coach Greg Kresslein, the climb has been worth it.
On Dec. 29, they scaled the final obstacle to the top when they beat Glenwood Middle School to stay unbeaten in the Holiday on the Hill Basketball Tournament at McDaniel College.
Freedom, the tournament's other unbeaten team at that point, did not play the championship game with North Carroll. The Huskies were declared the champion, the first championship in their four years as a team.
While winning it by forfeit took some of the luster off of the title, it is a title nevertheless, and those girls fought hard to get it.
Now they hope to do the same thing in the Carroll County Girls Basketball League where they stood 2-1 coming into this weekend.
The girls first joined the league as fourth-graders. And, they struggled over their first two years. They did improve a bit as fifth-graders.
Last year, the hard work began really paying off.
“We made a run for it, and we made a big improvement,” Kresslein said. “But we lost in the [league championship tournament] semifinals.”
This year, seven players are back; another has returned after a year absence. And, are are two new ones.
This means that most of the girls are used to playing together, an advantage that would be helpful in the tournament.
Coming into the tournament, Kresslein could see that his players had improved, and he expected his team to be in the hunt.
“We knew we would be competitive,” he said. “We’re always in the games. We weren’t blown out last year and haven’t been, this year, either.”
The Huskies weren’t blown out in their opening game on Dec. 28, either. But they didn’t win it. Freedom was too much defensively, and it edged them 21-19.
“Their zone gave us trouble as our shooting was a bit off,” Kresslein said. “We had a couple of good looks at the end of the game to tie, but just couldn’t finish.”
His team has a lot of shooters who can hit the outside shot.Madison MacGregor, Emily McElwaine, Kortney Hill, Reese Kresslein, and Marisa Wargo can all hit the mark. But they were one basket short in this opener.
Later in the day, the Huskies came out and beat South Carroll 30-13.
Kiara Hardy, an excellent ball-handler who generally plays point guard, successfully guided the offense in this one. Kresslein’s outside shooting and the inside play of forward Josie Bauerlein also sparked the offense.
The third and final game against Glenwood, played Sunday, was a squeaker like the first one. This time, though, the North Carroll kids would be the winners.
Western Howard County-based Glenwood led at halftime, but the Huskies were holding their own. Hardy and Hill were strong defensively; Brenna Murphy, a strong rebounder, was again effective on the boards.
In the second half, foul trouble hit forward Bauerlein when she picked up her fourth foul.But she managed to stay in the game and provide strong inside play, even with the fouls.
Then, with the game on the line late, Molly Smith hit a 3-pointer, and Kresslein had a three-point play to clinch the game for North Carroll. The Huskies, who had lost their opener by a basket, won the final by a basket, 24-22.
But while the girls wanted another crack at Freedom in a championship game, it wasn’t to be.
“It would have been a fun final if we could have played them. Our girls were deflated. But we will definitely see them later in the regular season,” Kresslein said.
Looking back at the girls’ performance in the tournament, he sees that they play much better as a unit than in the past.
“We play better team basketball,” Kresslein said. “And we don’t have one girl doing most of the scoring; we spread it around a lot.”
In that vein, everybody contributes.
“There’s nobody we have to hide. When anybody’s number is called, they go in and help the team,” he said.
He added the team’s man-to-man defense has also been top-notch. That was one of the reasons the girls won the tournament and why he expects them to do well as the regular season resumes.
Kresslein will also have an additional player for the rest of the season — Olivia Sprinkle, who has been out with a foot injury. Kresslein said Sprinkle is a “high-energy player who makes things happen.”
With one championship already secured, Kresslein is looking forward to an equally successful regular season.
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“I personally could not be more proud to coach this group of girls,” he said. “During practices and games, they give 100 percent and make coaching enjoyable.”