If Westminster wants to win its first girls basketball regional title in 35 years, the Owls will need to dethrone the two-time reigning Class 3A state champions to do so.
Standing in Westminster’s way is Frederick, which made it to the state semifinals in 2016 before winning crowns in 2017 and 2018. The Cadets have made it look rather easy during their recent run, with blowout victories by the handful and a Division I-bound player in senior guard Makayla Daniels leading the way.
The challenge didn’t seem to deter the Owls following their victory over Rockville on Thursday night to win the 3A West Section 1 title. Westminster has won 13 of its last 15, and takes a seven-game unbeaten streak into the regional final Saturday at 4:30 p.m.
Senior forward Zoe Costley, who reached 1,000 career points late in the regular season, had 14 points and 10 rebounds in Westminster’s 54-37 victory over Rockville on Thursday. Meanwhile, sophomore forward Sophia Diehl added 20 points, a game high, and seven boards.
The Owls (18-6) tend to go as their post players go, but Costley said the team bonded more following some changes on defense after a 5-4 start to the season. And if Westminster continues to play as a unit, Costley said, it stands a chance to compete against Frederick.
“That’s definitely what it feels like,” Costley said after Thursday’s game. “We’ve been focusing on ourselves lately, and I think a big change that we had from [the 5-4 start] is we switched into a 3-2 [zone] instead of a man [defense]. I think that will help really well with Frederick, because they like to drive. I feel like we have a good [chance] at stopping the guards from driving the middle.”
Daniels is Frederick’s go-to player, with three trips to the state tournament on her high school resume. She scored 19 points in the Cadets’ 50-point rout (76-26) in the Section 2 semifinals against Linganore, then led her team to a 61-28 shellacking over Tuscarora to advance to the 3A West title game.
Sophomore forward Rose Bubakar complements Daniels and gives Frederick (21-3) a solid combination, and the Cadets will likely look to apply pressure on defense as much as possible.
Costley leads Carroll in scoring this season at 16.8 points per game, and Diehl isn’t too far behind at 11.3. Costley adds 9 rebounds per game and Diehl grabs 8.8, good for second and third best in the county.
The Owls also feature sophomore guard Jillian Pumputis, who leads the team in assists, along with junior Maddie Olexy and sophomore Lauren Saltz in the backcourt.
Switching schemes but maintaining a man defense mindset has helped Westminster make a smooth transition, coach Dave Urban said. Urban said the Owls can succeed when they get offense from their defense, which is the goal for many teams.
“Most of the time when you’re in zone it’s like, ‘Oh, now I get to relax,’” Diehl said. “Our coaches are telling us, ‘We’re in a zone. That doesn’t mean you can take a backseat. You’ve still got to make sure you’re closing out the shooters.”
The regional champions move onto the state tournament, which begins March 14 at Towson University’s SECU Arena. Westminster’s last appearance came in 1984, and the Owls were runners-up. They also lost in the state final three years earlier.
Making it this far is relatively new to the Owls. But they’re not here by accident, and Urban said when Costley and Diehl are jelling it’s fun to watch.
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“The drills we do all year are preparing you for these games,” Urban said. “So, think of the drills. Think of the reason behind the drills, and execute as if every single thing you‘re doing is something you’ve practiced a thousand times. If you do that, good things will happen.”