Ever since the coronavirus pandemic took hold late in the 2019-20 basketball season, one reality any player has faced is that any game — whether it’s a playoff game or a mid-December nonconference tilt — could be their last.
Coach Barry Green instilled that philosophy in his Liberty girls basketball team and Jess Littlejohn was one that took it to heart.
“All last season, Coach Green was always like, ‘This may be our last game. We have to fight for what we want,”’ Littlejohn said. “This season we had those doubtful moments where it could’ve been our last game because of the sickness going around. But we knew we had to go out like it was our last. We had to go out fighting for every single moment, every single second of that game. Whether we won or lost, every single game I feel like we gave it our hardest.”
Never did that philosophy ring truer than in a win-or-go-home regional championship game against Century. Littlejohn refused to let that be her last game.
“Especially it being against a rival I knew I had to help our team,” she said. “We came out very slow in the first quarter, the first half, honestly. I knew I had to put my team on my back and say, ‘Girls, we got this. We just got to put it all together.’”
In a season of great performances, Littlejohn saved her best for when it mattered most. She scored 28 points to rally her team past Century and to the regional championship. For her efforts in the playoffs and throughout the season, Jess Littlejohn has been named the 2021-22 Carroll County Times girls basketball Player of the Year.
“She meant a lot to our team this year,” Green said. “She absolutely embodied the Liberty basketball culture. She spent a couple years prior to coming to liberty indoctrinating herself. All four years she was an outstanding leader in all facets, in the classroom, around campus and in every practice and every game.”
Littlejohn was Carroll County’s leader in points (15.6), assists (4.1) and steals (3.3) per game. She also topped the county in field-goal percentage (.535) and was second in free-throw percentage (.700).
Green, the veteran Liberty mentor, knew he was going to get a special player before she even got to high school.
“She was that kid in middle school you just knew she was going to be special with her level of commitment at that age,” Green said. “It just simply intensified as each season went along. She is just an unbelievable student-athlete that engages with her peers of the court and on the court, where she makes everyone better.”
Littlejohn began playing rec league basketball when she also was playing softball, which she called her “first love.” She said it was the “competitiveness” of basketball that pushed it over the top for her.
“Eighth grade came around and I knew basketball was what I really wanted to do and I know I’m going to work hard at it,” she said. “I quit softball and started playing basketball, started playing AAU with coach LaTonya [Hardy] and coach Chris [Hardy] with Hoopmasters. They put me in such a good mindset to become a better person and a better player.”
Littlejohn credited her coaches with Hoopmasters as the ones that brought out the best in her. When asked what traits and skills they helped her develop, Littlejohn said “passion, hard work and dedication.” Interestingly, all three are off-the-court variables rather than in-game techniques.
“The mental aspect has been a big part for me,” Littlejohn said. “If you went back and watched film from freshman year and see me now I’m a totally different player. Not selfishly, but just my mindset of the game, I knew going into every game this season I had to have that mindset of ‘Were going to win, we’re going to work hard and we’re going to do it as a team.’”
Littlejohn is committed to playing college basketball next season at Shenandoah University. She’ll bring with her the same traits on and off the court that made her such a key player and leader for Liberty.
“Junior year and senior year I knew I had to work on being more of a vocal leader and a team leader, rather than just sitting back and being the passer,” she said. “I knew this season would be tough ... I knew I had to be like, ‘Girls, this is our moment, this is our time. This is what we worked hard for all season and all these four years.’”
All-County first team
Joining Liberty’s Jess Littlejohn on the All-Carroll County first team are:
Eva Brandt, Century senior forward: Brandt was a dominant force inside for the Knights. She averaged a double-double with 11.5 points and 13.6 rebounds a game. Her rebounding total was tops in Carroll County. She shot 45.3% from the field, was fifth in the county in scoring and was a factor defensively with 50 blocked shots.
Carmaya Bowman, Manchester Valley junior forward: The county champion Mavericks were a balanced team with many weapons, but Bowman was a consistent force and a reason Manchester Valley won 21 games. She averaged 10 points, 8 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 2.0 steals a game while shooting 46% from the field.
Ally Mathias, Francis Scott Key junior forward: Mathias was a factor all over the floor for the Eagles. She was third in the county averaging 13 points a game, equally dangerous in the paint and on the perimeter. She was also third in the county in rebounding with 9.7 a game and second in free-throw percentage at .770. She blocked 46 shots and collected 44 steals.
Abby Kindle, Westminster junior guard: Kindle was consistent as the top offensive option for an Owls team that finished 12-8 and was a factor in the county championship until very late in the season. Kindle totaled 269 points, 53 rebounds, 21 assists and 38 steals.
All-County second team
Mia Graff, Century junior guard: Graff was second in the county averaging 13.1 points per game. She shot 23.7% from 3-point range and also collected 6.1 rebounds per game.
Jenna Liska, Liberty junior center: Liska averaged 9.3 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.6 steals a game.
Shannon McTavish, South Carroll junior forward: McTavish averaged 10.9 points, 8 rebounds, 3.1 steals and 1.2 blocks a game.
Eniyah Stinnette, Gerstell Academy sophomore forward: Stinnette averaged 9.6 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.6 steals a game.
Carroll County Daily Headlines
Taylor Lehman, Manchester Valley senior forward: Lehman averaged 7.5 points, 6 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 1.5 assists a game.
All-County third team
Maddi Haggerty, Liberty senior forward: Haggerty averaged 9.2 points per game and shot 33.5% on 3-pointers.
Kylie Redman, Gerstell Academy senior center: Redman averaged 10.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.5 blocks a game, shooting 49% from the field.
Drew Watkins, Francis Scott Key sophomore guard: Watkins averaged 9.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists a game.
Reese Kresslein, Manchester Valley sophomore forward: Kresslein averaged 7.0 points and 6.0 rebounds per game and shot 24% on 3-pointers.
Summer Brooks, Francis Scott Key freshman guard: Brooks averaged 8.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.7 points a game.
Century: Erin Mellendick and Caroline Little; Gerstell: Annie Jackson; Liberty: Kassie O’Hern; Manchester Valley: Casey Meredith, Kyrsten Lucas; South Carroll: Leah Miller; Westminster: Juliana Lesher, Kylie McWilliams; Winters Mill: Emily Kowalski, Sophia Vallandingham