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Strong freshman class excelling for Howard County girls basketball teams

Several Howard County girls basketball freshmen are excelling in their first season of high school basketball.
Several Howard County girls basketball freshmen are excelling in their first season of high school basketball. (Photos by BSMG)

While the Howard County girls basketball season has been dominated by high-scoring upperclassmen, several freshmen have proven their worth as the future of the league so far this season.

Almost every team in the county has at least one freshman playing significant minutes. Playing on varsity as a freshman is difficult, but eight youngsters have been key contributors to their teams this season.

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Here’s a list of the top freshman girls basketball players in Howard County:

Lauren LaPointe, Glenelg

Glenelg's Lauren LaPointe (3) during a girls high school basketball match between Hammond and Glenelg.
Glenelg's Lauren LaPointe (3) during a girls high school basketball match between Hammond and Glenelg. (Daniel Kucin Jr./Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Glenelg guard Lauren LaPointe is one of two freshmen to lead her team in scoring for the season. LaPointe is averaging a 7.1 points per game, which is the third highest of any freshman in the county.

Her season high was 14 points in Glenelg’s game against Century on Jan. 13. Glenelg head coach David Ebbe said LaPointe is one of his team’s best all-around players, combining her scoring and her defense.

“The first time I ever saw her play basketball was at our first day of tryouts this past November,” Ebbe said. “Within the first ten minutes, my coaching staff and I knew that she was ready for varsity. And the fact that she is our leading scorer this year has been even more of a pleasant surprise. Not only is she our leading scorer, but she is also one of our lockdown defenders, due to her speed, length and athleticism. I’m looking forward to seeing how she progresses and improves over the next few years.”

Blair Byrne, Glenelg Country

Glenelg's Blair Byrne, right, steals the ball from St. Mary's Toronto Williams, left, in the first quarter. The Saint Mary's Saints played the visiting Glenelg Country School Dragons in girls high school basketball.
Glenelg's Blair Byrne, right, steals the ball from St. Mary's Toronto Williams, left, in the first quarter. The Saint Mary's Saints played the visiting Glenelg Country School Dragons in girls high school basketball. (Paul W. Gillespie)

For the first half of Glenelg Country’s season, the Dragons had two main scorers — Ashlyn Bender and Caroline Haynes. Only twice in the Dragons’ first 11 games did a tertiary scorer tally double-digit points. During this time, Blair Byrne, a freshman, was averaging 3.3 points per game.

In the Dragons’ next 12 games, Byrne stepped up her game and averaged 9.0 points per game. A two-headed GCS attack quickly became a three-headed one with Byrne, a forward, battling in the paint for buckets and rebounds. Byrne, whose twin Regan is also on GCS, ends her freshman season averaging 6.3 points and 10 rebounds per game.

“Blair has been a huge contributor in our success,” said GCS coach Will Harper. “She’s a fierce competitor and brings passion and hustle to every possession."

Maya Woodson, Hammond

Hammond's Maya Woodson dribbles past Long Reach's Ashleigh Nagle in the Golden Bears' 58-32 win over the Lightning on Friday, Jan. 3, 2020.
Hammond's Maya Woodson dribbles past Long Reach's Ashleigh Nagle in the Golden Bears' 58-32 win over the Lightning on Friday, Jan. 3, 2020. (Photo courtesy of Israel Carunungan)

Hammond center Maya Woodson is arguably the best freshman in the county. Woodson is averaging 9.5 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.

Woodson and junior Jocelyn Fogle have combined to be one of the top frontcourts in the county. Several times this season both players have tallied double-doubles, and the two are combining to average 21.4 points per game.

Woodson had her best week of the season last week when she recorded back-to-back double-doubles for the Golden Bears. Between the two games she combined for 31 points, 29 rebounds and 10 blocks.

“She just has natural ability,” said Hammond head coach Alexis Briscoe. “She uses her body well, and she’s quick. She’s adapted to the game so quickly as a freshman, which is awesome. In two years, she’s going to be unstoppable.”

Gabby Kennerly, Howard

Howard (15) Gabby Kennerly puts up a shot. Howard High School Varsity Girls Basketball at Reservoir, February 11, 2020.
Howard (15) Gabby Kennerly puts up a shot. Howard High School Varsity Girls Basketball at Reservoir, February 11, 2020. (Nate Pesce/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

After missing the first 15 games of Howard’s season with a knee injury, Gabby Kennerly has established herself as the second player off the bench for the undefeated Lions.

She’s proven herself as a capable scorer for Howard (13-0, 19-0), tallying between four and seven points in all five of her games. She has the ability to play both in the paint and as a guard, and she stamped Howard’s biggest winning of the season — a 66-43 triumph over River Hill on Jan. 31 — with a 3-pointer at the very end of the contest.

Howard head coach Scott Robinson said Kennerly’s ability to play multiple positions is an important aspect of her value to the Lions off the bench.

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“Gabby tore her ACL in March of 2019 playing AAU. She returned only two weeks ago and has performed remarkably well. Due to the nature of her injury, we are monitoring her minutes judiciously, but she has really impressed us with her quick first step, her good hands, her ability to handle to handle ball and her strength, which has allowed her to finish inside.”

Samiyah Nasir, Howard

Howard (11) Samiyah Nasir moves the ball downcourt as Reservoir (1) Amani Pressley covers her. Howard High School Varsity Girls Basketball at Reservoir, February 11, 2020.
Howard (11) Samiyah Nasir moves the ball downcourt as Reservoir (1) Amani Pressley covers her. Howard High School Varsity Girls Basketball at Reservoir, February 11, 2020. (Nate Pesce/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Howard guard Samiyah Nasir has been a key part of the undefeated Lions all season. As the first girl off the bench, Nasir can fill in wherever needed. She’s played solid defense for Howard, and has also scored in double figures in three games.

For the season, Nasir is averaging 4.4 points per game with a season high of 11 points against Glenelg on Dec. 9. Robinson said Nasir has been a “key component” of the Lions’ success this season.

“She is extremely athletic and has brought instant energy when she comes in the game,” Robinson said. “She is a relentless defender and an explosive offensive player that has improved as the season has progressed.”

Tamir Whittle, Long Reach

Tamir Whittle
Tamir Whittle (Photo courtesy of Israel Carunungan)

Tamir Whittle is the second in points per game among freshmen and is one of two freshmen to lead her team in points. The point guard is averaging 8.9 points per game this season with a season high of 23 points against Hammond on Feb. 7.

Her slick dribbling and speed have impressed this season, and Long Reach coach Keith Williams said Whittle has made “amazing strides” this season.

“She came in as a pass first point guard, but she is developing into a three-level scoring playmaker who just happens to be a great defender and crafty passer as well,” Williams said. “The thing about Tamir that has developed most over the course of the season is her poise.”

Kaity Browne, Oakland Mills

Oakland Mills' Kaity Brown (1) is smothered by Mt. Hebron's defenders during a girls high school match between Oakland Mills and Mt. Hebron.
Oakland Mills' Kaity Brown (1) is smothered by Mt. Hebron's defenders during a girls high school match between Oakland Mills and Mt. Hebron. (Daniel Kucin Jr./Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Oakland Mills forward Kaity Browne has been key down low for the Scorpions. Browne is averaging 6.8 points per game with a season high of 16 points in Oakland Mills’ win over Long Reach on Feb. 11. She also leads the Scorpions in rebounds.

Oakland Mills coach Walt Hagins said Browne is filling the void of Aislynn Riggs, who averaged 9.8 points per game and was a force in the paint for the Scorpions last season.

“We knew that Kaity would bring tenacity as a freshman, but we had no idea that she would develop as quickly as she has on both sides of the ball,” Hagins said. “Also, we have been amazed at hew speed, length and abilities to defend and rebound. Her basketball acumen is growing exponentially because of her thirst to become better. ... She has unlimited potential in respect to how great she can be.”

Laiya Hardie, Reservoir

Reservoir's Layla Hardie brings the ball down the court against Howard Wednesday.
Reservoir's Layla Hardie brings the ball down the court against Howard Wednesday. (Nicole Munchel for The Baltimore/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Reservoir guard Laiya Hardie has improved throughout the season for the Gators. She is averaging 5.1 points per game with a season high of 15 points against Hammond on Feb. 15. She’s averaging 8.4 points per game in the Gators’ last seven contests.

The highlight of her season was stealing an inbounds pass and making the game-winning layup in the Gators’ 62-60 win over Oakland Mills on Jan. 3. Reservoir head coach Deb Taylor said Hardie, alongside fellow freshman Amaya Pennington, has a “huge upside.”

“She has a lot of ability, and she’s working really hard," Taylor said. "Her basketball IQ is coming around, and that’s been a huge growth. She’s going to be terrific. ... (And) Amaya is one of our best perimeter defenders, allowing us to put her on the opposition’s best guard.”

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