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Howard County Times
Howard County Sports

Mt. Hebron girls basketball off to strong start despite significant roster turnover

Mt. Hebron girls basketball coach Tierney Ahearn didn’t know what to expect entering the 2021-22 season.

The Vikings faced a large roster turnover with just five returners from when they last played two seasons ago due to coronavirus restrictions. However, that roster fluctuation hasn’t negatively impacted them, as six newcomers — including five freshmen and one sophomore — have fit in seamlessly.

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“At the beginning of the season, I didn’t really know what was going to happen,” senior forward Audrey Harrington said. “I just went in and was like, ‘OK I want to give it 100%. I love playing basketball with these girls, I love my coach, so whatever happens, happens.’”

The returning players make up the starting five, but the newcomers have provided valuable contributions off the bench. Freshmen guards Iva Damyanova and Ava Skaggs stepped up in Friday’s loss against River Hill with senior guard Danielle Bodziak and junior guard Rae Vidal out. Sophomore forward Leen Jawhar has showcased energy on both ends of the floor, giving the Vikings a spark off the bench.

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“The new girls that are on our team are outstanding. They have such great personalities and they’re so hardworking that we all just have a common goal that even if we’re down or having a bad game, we never stop playing hard,” Harrington said. “We’re always giving it 100% and every single girl on the team does that.”

Their strong start (6-1 overall, 4-1 Howard County) has been guided by stifling defense, not allowing opponents to generate an offensive rhythm. Through seven games, the Vikings are allowing 37.1 points per game, developing into one of Howard County’s top defensive teams. Friday’s loss to River Hill, Mt. Hebron’s only loss this season, was the only time a team scored more than 45 points against them.

“I played for Dave Greenberg, huge defensive-minded coach,” Ahearn said. “It’s what I focused on, [as a player] it was what put me on the court. I always tell the girls, ‘You’re going to win your spot, playing the best defense on the team, playing as hard as you can.’ What I like the best is their effort level. They’re relentless.”

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Harrington has been a cornerstone of that defensive success in the paint, consistently blocking shots and grabbing tough rebounds. Beyond her paint presence, Harrington’s leadership has become a quintessential part of Mt. Hebron’s success.

“My main goal was to be a leader on the court and off the court,” Harrington said of her mentality entering this season. “I wanted to make sure that I was somebody the underclassmen could look up to and ask questions to.”

Offensively, the Vikings look much different without guard Satori Valentine, who graduated two seasons ago. Valentine was the main initiator of Mt. Hebron’s offense and the team’s most consistent scoring threat.

However, senior guard Erin Dixon has excelled stepping into her new role as the Vikings’ lead guard. She’s averaging a team-high 15 points per game, forming a strong backcourt duo with Vidal also averaging double figures with 11.

“I feel like I’ve gained a lot of confidence since sophomore year because I kind of played more laid back and hesitant,” Dixon said. “Now I know I have a big role on the team that I have to fulfill. My goal coming into this season was just to step up and basically not be scared or be shy.”

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The Vikings look to build on their start entering their final eight regular-season games. They next travel to Long Reach on Wednesday.

“They keep getting better and they keep showing up to practices to work hard,” Ahearn said. “I love my coaching staff; it feels like a family. It feels like a really great group of kids. I’m hoping to upset a couple more teams and hopefully have a little bit longer of a life in that playoff situation than I would’ve originally expected.”


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