The Fallston girls basketball team had a magical 2021-22 season, as a senior-laden group and strong outside shooting carried the Cougars to the Class 2A state championship.
Ten seniors from that team graduated, leaving the burden on a new, young group to carry the title of defending champions. But those taking the court this year are proud to hold that label and accepted the challenges that come with it.
Fallston is 4-1 to start to season after picking up an overtime win over Harford Tech in its final game before the Christmas break. The team has also battled injuries, but that hasn’t stopped it from improving.
“The team is taking shape in a way that surprises me in terms of how fast it’s starting to come together,” coach Johnny Woods said. “Right now we’re injured, I got about four girls out — I’m playing about seven girls — but what that’s enabled me to do is get a lot of girls on the court right now. And they are really starting to come together.”
The returning Cougars knew what was coming this year, but there’s still a lot of confidence in their gym.
“I knew personally that this was going to be a lot of rebuilding, but I still had high hopes for our team knowing our coaches and knowing how hard they worked to get to where we were,” senior forward Renae Gent said. “I had no doubt that we can work to the same goal if we put 100% percent effort in as a team.”
The new faces aren’t the only difference. The style of play has also changed to fit the new personnel.
“Last year we shot the [3-pointer] better than any team in the state, probably about 42%,” Woods said. “This year, we won’t shoot the three that well — we probably won’t even take as many threes — but we have an inside presence this year that’s going to make us different, and still good.”
That inside presence includes Gent and her 18 rebounds a game, as well as junior center Ayla Galloway, who averages 18 points and 14 rebounds.
“We played together last year and we were really comfortable with each other last year. I think it just shifted over again to this year,” Galloway said. “We’re both doing a lot of things in the paint and we just trust each other.”
The adjustment is still a work in progress, but the team feels it will pay off down the road.
“Especially because we have so many players injured right now it’s hard to make that adjustment, but as time goes on, it will become a nicer thing,” Gent said. “We still have great perimeter shooting, it’s just a matter of practicing it and knowing how to incorporate using both, when to shoot, when to feed the post.”
Even though there are offensive changes, Fallston still features its trademark defense.
“Defense and free throws is what Coach Woods likes to say, and I agree that defense is the way to win games,” Gent said. “Sure we can score layups and jump shots, but we can’t prevent another team from scoring if we don’t have a great defense.”
Galloway is a Division I lacrosse prospect committed to Mercer. She says the two sports work well transferring skills.
“Footwork and the defense in basketball is the exact same thing as in lacrosse,” she said. “Coach works with us mainly on defense, he always tells us defense is the game. You can’t play basketball without defense.”
With Galloway and Gent controlling the inside, it opens up the perimeter for Fallston’s new crop of outside shooters.
“When Renae and I are in the paint and we’re scoring all these points, people are starting to step up,” Galloway said. “Last game, Lindsey Dettloff hit a lot of threes and Maddy Burns hits her threes all the time. People are stepping up.”
The short-handed Cougars prevailed in overtime in their last game Dec. 22 against Harford Tech. It went a long way toward bringing together a young team still figuring out how to jell.
“I think a win like that is exactly what we needed before going into break,” Gent said. “Knowing we’re still capable of a lot even with those injuries just shows that we need to trust the process.”
“It just builds confidence and knowing we’re getting better every game,” Galloway added. “The improvement we’ve made Thursday from our first game is crazy. We’re knocking down threes, we’re scoring in the paint, we’re doing so much stuff that we couldn’t do in our first game.”
If there’s one thing girls at Fallston know, it’s how to win games. In addition to last year’s basketball team, the girls soccer team has won two straight state titles. The girls lacrosse team has been state runner-up the past two seasons. With a lot of athletes crossing over between sports, the winning mentality permeates.
“You can be in a habit of winning or you can be in a habit of losing. Fortunately when there’s so many teams that excel in a building, then it does breed a sense of winning,” Woods said. “Most of those soccer girls play basketball; most of those lacrosse girls play basketball. They can excel and they can win at their No. 1 sports, but when they come to basketball, we’re teaching them basketball but we don’t have to teach them how to be winners.”
In Woods’ view, the pieces are coming together for another special season. It’s just a matter of time.
“In February, be prepared,” he said, “because we’re just getting better.”