When the seeding came out for the 2018 Women’s NCAA Basketball Tournament, who could have imagined a first round match up that pits two former Harford County basketball stars against each other?
That’s exactly what happened when the University of Maryland drew a five seed and was paired with the 12th seeded Tigers of Princeton University. The game is set for Friday at noon in Raleigh, NC. It can be seen live on ESPN2.
The game puts Terrapins sophomore forward Stephanie Jones and Princeton junior guard Qalea Ismail on the floor together for the first time since both were helping lead respective high school teams to state championships.
Jones was a freshman when Aberdeen won the Class 3A title in 2013, while Ismail was part of the back-to-back 2A state title teams (2015, 2016) at Patterson Mill in her junior and senior years.
“It’s going to be a great game on Friday,” Jones said. “Qalea and I played against each other all the time in high school, so I’m just looking forward to the matchup.”
Jones, a kinesiology major, who has started all 32 games this season for the Terps (25-7) averages over 24 minutes a game. She’s averaging 10.9 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. Jones also has 26 blocks and 53 steals.
Ismail, on the other hand, has just gotten back on the court after a 14-month layoff due to an ACL injury suffered in the Tigers first scrimmage of Ismail’s sophomore year. “Dealing with this injury was the hardest thing I've ever gone through as a player. It took a lot from me physically and mentally to be able to fully recover from it,” Ismail wrote in an email. “Overall, it took 14 months to be able to start playing again about halfway through this season. The process was long and heartbreaking at times, but I know that I'm stronger because of it. I'm so grateful for my family, teammates, coaches, and trainer who were there for me to lean on the entire time.”
In 13 games played in her return, with 12 starts, Ismail, a sociology major, has averaged 4.3 points and 1.5 rebounds. She also has four steals and six blocks.
“It was always fun playing Stephanie Jones in high school, she was some of the best competition that I faced and our teams always battled,” Ismail wrote. “I think it's pretty cool that we'll be able to compete again at the college level on such a big stage.”
Both players, regardless of playing each other, are happy to be playing in the national tournament.
“Growing up I always watched college basketball and dreamed of being able to play in the NCAA Tournament one day. I think every basketball player does,” Ismail wrote. “To be able to say that your team has worked for and earned a ticket to the big dance is really special and I can't wait to take in every moment of this experience with my teammates.”