This year's eighth-grade Central Maryland Attitude team has played in the Carroll County Travel Basketball league since its girls were third-graders. But until this year, they were always good but not quite good enough.
“We'd always gotten into the semifinal game of the league tournament, but never got into the championship game,” coach Chris Conklin said. “But we always played a year or two up (in older age divisions).”
This year though, the girls were eighth-graders and could play up no higher. There were no older opponents to contend with. And they finally won it all.
The Attitude, a team sponsored by the Westminster-based Central Maryland Attitude basketball club, finished first in the eighth grade division with an 11-1 regular season record.
Then, on March 2, it capped off its most successful season ever by winning the semifinal and final games in the league's championship tournament at the South Carroll Senior Center.
Conklin said that the club's main goal is always to prepare the girls for high school play. It looks like he had done that. But this season, his eighth graders were also heavily focused on winning the title because it would their last chance.
The group has been together for a long time. Ten of the 12 have played together since the third grade. Two new players came in this year.
Conklin said the group's members had become close by playing basketball together over the years. Many had also played together on travel soccer teams and for the Check-Hers Lacrosse Club.
The coach said that closeness was a factor in their final success.
The team had a busy season. It played in several tournaments and also in a tough girls basketball league down in Arbutus. They finished third of 15 teams in that one.
“It was pretty difficult competition from all around the Baltimore region. We were happy to do that well,” Conklin said.
Attitude was 31-6 in all of its games this year. Its regular season in the Carroll County League was pretty much of a breeze, except for Game 11.
It had won its first 10 games when it ran up against a very familiar divisional opponent — the other eighth-grade Attitude team.
Conklin's team got thumped 43-32 in that Feb. 9 showdown. But he wasn't completely sorry it happened. In fact, he felt the loss was a plus.
“They were younger than us, and it was a wake-up call,” Conklin said. “I was glad that we lost that one game because it took the pressure off of us to remain undefeated. We knew we needed to re-focus if we played them again. While I thought that we were the strongest team coming into the playoffs, I also knew that any team can win on any given day."
Attitude's first-place record gave it the top seed and a first-round bye in the postseason tourney.
However, Conklin's girls didn't have to shake off any rust when they faced Francis Scott Key in the March 2 semifinal. They shot to a 27-6 halftime lead and went on to an easy 48-11 win.
Guard Lauren Orner paced all scorers with 15 points. Post player Payton Zepp and guard Abby Kindle each added seven. Marissa Carter led the team in rebounds and Maddie Stauder led with three steals.
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Both were outstanding on defense.Emma Hook added four points off the bench.
Not surprisingly, Attitude had to face the other Attitude in the championship game. That game was a battle for the first half. Conklin's team held a 10-9 lead at intermission.
But it ran off a 10-0 third quarter streak en route to a 28-16 win in that final. Orner again led with seven points.Carlie Rosewag and Jenna Liska each added six.
Two other guards, Aubrey Chopper and Paige Moreland, combined for six more points off the bench.Most of these came during their team's decisive 10-0 third quarter burst.
Emily Conklin and Casey Meredith, who shared the point guard slot, bedeviled their opponents with their pressure and caused multiple turnovers which their teammates turned into easy fast-break baskets.
When it was over, the girls finally had the championship that had eluded them so long.
“We played in other years, but we just got over matched by older girls,” Conklin said. “This is the first year we've played in our age group. We could see all our hard work and practice pay off when they finally played girls their own age.”