Watching a freshman come into their own on a varsity team is often hard to find, but Bethany Fowler and Sophia Diehl have defied the odds.
The girls play for two different basketball teams — Fowler at South Carroll, Diehl at Westminster — and have used a balanced combination of youth and talent to lead their respective teams this season.
Diehl started playing basketball when she was in second grade after her parents suggested she give it a try. Her brother had already gotten involved with the sport, so Diehl joined recreational leagues, transitioned to travel basketball and continued playing through middle school prior to arriving at Westminster.
She never played on the junior varsity team. Instead, she emerged as a varsity starter.
“Starting on varsity is a big deal and I just have so much passion for the game,” Diehl said. “I love the game and knowing that I have other people who are experienced and have good coaches that will help me take that big role and grasp it makes it not so overwhelming.”
The Owls had one of their most successful seasons in recent history this year. They posted a 12-0 county record, twice defeating two-time reigning county champion Manchester Valley. They went 18-0 before suffering losses to Glenelg and Linganore before the end of the regular season and earning a first round bye in the Class 3A West playoffs.
Their season ended with a loss to Man Valley in a sectional semifinal March 2.
Diehl, a forward, closed out her freshman debut as the team’s second leading scorer, averaging 10.6 points per game. She added 117 rebounds, 26 assists, 28 steals and led the Owls in 3-point shooting (32 percent), good for first-team all-county recognition this season.
She said her favorite memory from the season was capturing the county title with her teammates.
“I look back at the season and think, ‘Wow,’ Diehl said. “That was amazing, being a freshman on varsity. I felt like it was a great experience for me. Our coach’s mindset was to start with one goal and build on that. It was really important because it hasn’t been done for many years and we’re kind of underdogs so it was an important goal for us to reach.”
Staying positive and uplifting each other helped the Owls find success this season, Diehl added.
“I would say it went pretty well because I felt like I was welcomed and the coaches believed in me,” Diehl said. “It gave me confidence and the experienced players are very knowledgeable about the sport so that helped make the transition easier.”
Fowler was brought straight to South Carroll’s varsity squad and, like Diehl, she didn’t expect to be a starter.
Fowler, a guard, said she was named a starter right before the Cavaliers’ first game of the season. She was nervous at first, she said, but quickly adapted to playing the game the best way she knew how.
“I was really happy after that and I wanted to prove that I could start again and continue to do so,” Fowler said.
Fowler led the Cavaliers in scoring (9.0 ppg) and steals (81), and also earned first team all-county honors. The Cavs’ season ended with a loss to Winters Mill in a 2A West sectional semifinal on Feb. 27. Fowler scored a team-high 13 points against the rival Falcons.
“I became more comfortable with driving [to the basket] and just playing as a team and not having to take it all on myself,” Fowler said. “My teammates were always there to help me and driving helped me a lot in the games.”