Amelia Saunders said it took some time for her to adjust to being the most heavily guarded player on the basketball court.
The Manchester Valley High School senior guard tried to speed up her game to be faster than other players at first, but said the Carroll County Athletic League’s speedy defenders made that difficult at times. The Mavericks’ coaches worked with her to develop ways she could beat other players without working herself too hard as a result.
“We found out that I just have to move at a different speed, change my direction and try to beat them with my IQ, not my speed,” Saunders said. “That’s what I focused on and I just stopped worrying about it mid-season and just played basketball. If people double- or triple-teamed me or face-guarded me heavily, I was able to give up the ball and trust my teammates to finish the play.
“That’s why we succeeded on the court.”
Saunders, the Times Girls Basketball Player of the Year, helped lead the Mavericks to a 14-10 record that included seven county wins. She led the county with 17.8 points per game, and finished her career with 1,061 points.
She pulled down 5.3 rebounds per game and led the team in steals (3.6 ppg), field-goal percentage (41.2), 3-point percentage (29.8), and free-throw percentage (61.0).
The Mavericks closed out the regular season on a 5-1 stretch prior to facing Centennial in the first round of the Class 3A East playoffs. They trailed by five points entering the fourth quarter, but Saunders and teammate Josey Shaffer combined for 11 points in the final frame to defeat the Eagles and set up a second-round rematch with Westminster.
The Owls were not to be denied on their home court, however, and defeated the Mavericks 46-45 in overtime. Saunders scored a game-high 19 points against Centennial and 14 against the Owls in her final two playoff games.
“I would tell [my teammates] before every game that no matter the score, no matter the outcome of this game, let’s play and let’s have fun,” Saunders said. “Let’s play together because that’s all that matters and if we do the little things and have fun, it’s most likely going to result in a win anyway and if it didn’t, I kept my head high and kept my composure because I knew we could get the next one.”
Saunders played junior varsity volleyball as a freshman at Manchester Valley in 2016, but she said her primary focus was always basketball. Her goal was to make the varsity team and she did so, but saw limited playing time for the first two years due in part to a nagging knee injury.
The Mavericks were led by Jayce and Josey Klingenberg and Mackenzie DeWees, the county’s all-time leading scorer, for three of Saunders’ four years. Heather DeWees, the team’s coach, said Saunders would be “hidden” on the 3-point line to wait for an outside shot should those three guards receive too much pressure.
“She has always been an unselfish player, a good passer and has always been a good ball handler so in those four years many times I’d say I have four point guards, but Amelia never had to have that role,” DeWees said. “It wasn’t really until this year that she had to become the primary and only ball handler. She went from being encapsulated around Jayce, Josey, and Mackenzie to ‘Hey, it’s me.' ”
Saunders scored a career-high 32 points in the Mavs’ 65-44 victory over North Hagerstown on Feb. 21 to become the second Man Valley player to reach 1,000 career points. She plans to attend De Sales University and play basketball at the next level.
“I’m just so blessed to be part of a great team,” Saunders said. “All of my teammates, they really made my season one to remember. Every single girl on the basketball team contributed to the season and contributed to not only games on the court but to the chemistry we had and to all of the fun times we had together in the locker rooms and on the bus rides, no matter wins or losses.
“At the end of the day, I’m just going to remember this season because my teammates made it one to remember.”