Girls Basketball: Freshmen laying foundations on their respective varsity teams

Lillian Harris' first practice with Westminster's varsity team didn't go as smooth as she might have hoped.

The freshman center had just been pulled up from the junior varsity squad and the Owls were preparing to face county foe Winters Mill the following evening.


"It was a horrible practice," Harris said, with a laugh. "It was one of the worst practices I've had, but going in I just told myself that if they didn't think I could play at that level then I wouldn't have been pulled up. I just tried my hardest and we won the next day so it felt good."

The Owls did indeed win their third straight game the following day with a 43-25 victory over the host Falcons. Harris didn't register any points, but had two in the Owls' 41-30 defeat of South Carroll about a week later.


Since being brought in, she's been gathering feasible minutes.

"In my first game, I was nervous but now that I'm getting more playing time and seeing the competition, it gets easier and easier," Harris said. "At first I was nervous guarding a girl that's three or four years older than me. That's a little intense, but the level of play is getting easier and it's slowing down as I continue to work."

Harris said her travel coach from the Columbia Ravens made it a goal for each player to make varsity for their respective high school teams. Dedication to putting in time and work to achieve that goal helped Harris get to where she is today, she said.

Nerves are no surprise for an incoming freshman looking to find her role within a varsity program for the first time. The pace of the game is different and the level gets tougher.

At Liberty, freshmen making the varsity squad is a rare feat. Lions coach Barry Green said his last players to join varsity as freshmen were Maddee Farley and Olivia Thompson — five years ago. The duo graduated in 2016, but Green has sought out freshmen Jordan Nastos and Rachel Thiem, players he deems fundamentally sound.

"For us, it's Liberty history, we just don't do it," Green said. "The maturity of Jordan and Rachel, as 14-year-olds, their basketball maturity is light years ahead of what you would expect from those two kids."

Manchester Valley freshman point guard Amelia Saunders has been playing basketball since seventh grade. A few of her early goals included playing at the varsity level in high school and, hopefully, carrying that to the collegiate level one day.

So far, one aspiration has been reached.

The Mavs are undefeated at 12-0, and Saunders is making an early impact. She has scored 51 points, including 21 rebounds, 14 steals and 12 assists, as of Friday.

"This season started off great," Saunders said. "We're undefeated so far and we've played well as a team. I see our two captains Mackenzie [DeWees] and Jayce [Klingenberg], they always lift everyone up and make us better players. In the next three years, I see myself taking on that role and being a leader and a good teammate for everyone so we can be successful in the season."

The Mavericks went 24-2 in 2015-16, captured the county title, and made an appearance in the Class 1A West Region final. It was their best record in program history and Saunders is well aware of the success the team has been building on.

Lions snap losing streak with county victory over host Westminster

"I try to create opportunities for other players to score and for myself, it's not always about scoring," Saunders said. "I always try to lift up my teammates and cheer them on. We're all a team and we're all working together to win and have fun so I strive to get better every day. I want to get better at playing basketball and on the court and practicing with this team has helped me get better every day."


Basketball wasn't on Rachel Tackett's radar at first.

Tackett danced competitively for nine years and quit upon entering fifth grade. In sixth grade, she joined the Freedom Area Basketball League travel team and later joined the Central Maryland Attitude AAU team.

Like Harris and Saunders, South Carroll's Tackett is the lone freshman on her roster. She's 5-foot-9 and one of the Cavaliers' tallest players. At forward, she's averaging 5.5 points per game and has tallied 12 assists and 47 rebounds.

"I played for Coach Liz [Padgett] before so I knew her and it was easier knowing the coach when going through tryouts," Tackett said. "The tryouts were good and I knew some girls on varsity already so that helped. I was nervous because they were older and once I joined they were really welcoming.

"Practicing every day a week is a lot harder when you come from AAU or travel where you practice twice or three times a week. It's a commitment, but it's fun and I like it."

Six Cavaliers will graduate after this season, and three of them are post players, like Tackett. She said she expects to increase her ability to provide points in the post as she continues to emerge as an impact player.

Harris, Saunders and Tackett are among a variety of first-year players on varsity teams. As rare as it might be for freshman to break through that barrier, the girls have steadily proved their worth as the season progresses.

"It shows that you can accomplish anything through hard work," Harris said. "At first, if you don't get what you want, you just have to keep working and if the opportunity comes, you have to grab onto it and take it."



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