In gyms around the area this winter, junior varsity teams once again began laying the foundation for future athletic success at the high school level.
Whether it was freshmen and sophomores new to their respective sports trying to get a foot in the door or individuals simply trying to hone their skills for future varsity glory, JV once again provided invaluable lessons. Often, as coaches will point out, the development of fundamentals and teamwork were more important than wins and losses.
After another successful campaign often flying under the radar, however, these JV athletes are worthy of recognition.
We contacted each school through its athletic administration and asked for information about their JV teams. Here is what we heard back.
Centennial finished the season with a 15-4 county record and an overall mark of 18-4, being led by some strong returning sophomores, a talented freshmen class and a couple transfers from out-of-state.
The defense, often playing man-to-man, allowed opponents to average just 42.6 points per game. On the other end of the floor, the Eagles' offense was balanced and received timely contributions from many different faces.
"We had the luxury of having some returning experience and that experience, along with some newcomers and a strong ninth grade class made practices a war," coach Christian Sanders said. "It's a great feeling as a coach when you see players compete in practice and then watching that intensity translate into game situations. Our players understand that playing time is earned in practice."
Sophomores Sean Taylor (11.2 points per game), Jake Watson (7.1 ppg) and Alex Crocamo (6.2 rebounds per game) were all leaders that provided timely offense. Sophomore transfers Juan Parra, Andre Fanning and Corey Udell were consistent performers as well.
Shawn Hill (4.8 rpg) and Jake Horen (2.8 steals per game) were forces on defense.
Newcomers DeJonte July, Cam Berkeley, Matt Merkey, Ryan Hollwedel, Stafford Smith, Hayden Ford and Michael Kefyalew all adapted to the steep learning curve of playing high school basketball.
"Our ninth grade class contains some versatile players who played key roles this year," Sanders said. "Our depth and the on-going competition taking place in practice allowed the ninth graders to see a lot of time, often during crunch time. That will only help the program in the future."
Even without much in the way of wins, Hammond stuck together from start to finish. It was the first season that any of the 12 members of the team, featuring six freshmen and six sophomores, had played together.
"As the season went on, they grew together and became a stronger unit," coach Sean Headen said. "Hammond's JV basketball future is bright. The foundation has been laid and the freshmen who played together this year will be able to pick up next season where the team left off this year."
Headen said the team lost several games that it held leads in during the second half, including in the season opener in overtime. But through it all, he said they always found until the very end of every game.
Freshman Micah Henry led the team in scoring, while sophomore Tekye Evans — also a star on the football field — was the leading rebounder.
Howard finished the year with a 15-4 county record, getting off to a fast start to the season courtesy of overtime victories against Hammond and Oakland Mills the first two times out.
There was a lull shortly after that with three straight losses, but the Lions regrouped to finish strong with wins in 13 of their last 14 games. Included in the closing stretch was a 10-game winning streak.
Elijah Cross (11.3 points per game), Tyri Davis (10.2 ppg), Devin Dawkins (8.6 ppg) and Revanth Nedurumalli (7.5 ppg) were the team's offensive leaders. Austen Roberson, Ben Stephanos, Aidan O'Conner, Colton Jones and Gabe Williams were the defensive standouts.
Even with a final record of 4-16, Long Reach was competitive the entire season. It was a learning year overall considering that 11 of the team's 15 players were playing high school basketball for the first time.
"There is a lot of talent on the team and once they get more experience, they will see it translate to better game performance," coach Robert Garrant said.
Freshman point guard Elijah Modeste led the team in scoring this winter, capitalizing on his great court vision. Sophomore captains CJ Thompson and Josh Jones were keys along the way as well. There are six freshmen from this season that will be returning as sophomores next year.
An up-and-down season, featuring several winning streaks and losing streaks, resulted in a final record of 17-6 for Marriotts Ridge. The Mustangs lost their first game of the year — a 50-49 heartbreaker against Atholton on the road — but rebounded to win their next 12 games in a row.
Among the season highlights was the team's two match-ups against the county's top JV team — Wilde Lake. In the first meeting, Marriotts Ridge was up by 18 points on the road at the half before giving up the lead in the second half and losing by five. "That night in the locker room, we vowed to never let that happen again and circled the calendar for our next meet," coach Timothy Brady said.
By the time the two teams met again late in the year, Marriotts Ridge was mired in a five-game losing skid. But the Mustangs put together an inspired effort to lead by 18 points against the Wildecats at the half once again. Wilde Lake battled all the way back in the second half just like the first meeting, taking a two-point lead with under 10 seconds left. Only this time, Marriotts Ridge answered with a pair of foul shots by freshman Josh Olsufka to force overtime.
After a back-and-forth extra period, Troy Hettinger got the ball in a tie game with under 10 seconds left and converted a clutch lay-up to win the game.
Marriotts Ridge ended the season on a four-game winning streak. Olsufka was the team's leading scorer all season long, while the team's captains were Nathan Schubert, Berk Demirel and Josh Turner.
"Nathan is the brains, Josh is our energy and Berk is the glue that kept us together. Everyone on this team contributed greatly," Brady said. "We have a strong class of impact freshmen that can and will make the future of this program bright."
With a balanced squad that thrived on both ends of the floor, Mt. Hebron finished 16-4 in county and 18-4 overall. The Vikings finished the season outscoring their opponents by a total margin of 218 points in 22 games.
"This was a very special year for our group," coach Jared Ettinger said. "It was a fantastic group of 13 guys who enjoyed great team chemistry and camaraderie. From top to bottom the team was very talented and the players bought into the coaches' philosophy of accountability, structure and hard work."
Things started with JC McCorn at point guard, who was a "coach on the court" and had great floor vision on offense and was a lock-down defender on the other end. The duo of Ryan Kinloch and Yassin Omer were nicknamed the "splash brothers" for their sharpshooting from 3-point range. Kinloch finished with a single-game high of 30 points.
Alex Nazaire and Malik Islam provided the team's presence in the paint. Nazaire was named MVP of the Northeast Holiday tournament and finished the year with a season-high of 24 points.
"The team played at a very fast pace, with a high-flying, up-tempo transition style offense," Ettinger said. "We also had a swarming defense that created many turnovers each game."
Reservoir finished the year with an overall record of 11-11, including a five-game winning streak. Included in that run was victories over Wilde Lake and Marriotts Ridge squads that the team had lost to in the beginning of the season.
The Gators, made up of nine freshmen and five sophomores, had several leaders. Freshman Jaylen Barrett (12.9 points per game) and sophomore Grant Okolo (12.2 ppg) were the team's leading scorers.
Other strong contributions came from sophomores Boston Cooper and Malik Wills, along with freshmen Kyle Smith, Eli Soto and Josh Odunowo.
Wilde Lake played its way to the top of the county this winter, finishing with a 17-3 county record and a 19-3 mark overall.
"The team was involved in several close games, but weathered the storm by sticking together and staying focused in the final minutes," coach Pete Bergin said. "The team approached each game with urgency, energy, effort and — most of all — passion."
There were talented players all over the floor, but arguably none as dynamic as freshman point guard Trea Keys. The speedy ball handler led the team in scoring with an average of 19.4 points a game and was called up to varsity for the playoffs where he averaged more than seven points a game. "Trea set the team's tempo and cadence with great anticipation skills and an aggressive mindset both offensively and defensively," Bergin said.
Team captain Gerald Van Tassell was another standout who was called up to varsity and contributed during the playoffs. The talented big man averaged 6.7 rebounds a game and controlled the paint defensively.
Stanley Thomas and Alhaji Kamara were also captains who pushed the team all year. Freshmen Marc Marshall and Daeshawn Eaton were contributors on both ends of the court, particularly with their efforts attacking the glass for rebounds.
Freshmen Ben Chamblee — an offensive standout — and Will Zimmerman — a scrappy defensive player — also played big minutes.
Among the season highlights was coming back from a 20-point deficit against Marriotts Ridge during the middle of the season to earn an important win.
"Their tenacity and perseverance were rewarded with a very well-earned victory," Bergin said. "Their winning attitude illustrated the great potential that this tightly-knit group has going forward."
On the strength of an 11-game winning streak during the course of the season, Chapelgate Christian finished with an 11-7 record in the MIAA B Conference to go along with an overall record of 16-10. Two wins came against A Conference opponents.
During its run of victories, the Yellowjackets beat every team in the B Conference at least once. "Had it not been for the loss of several key players toward the end of the season, this team had the potential to compete for the MIAA B Conference Championship," coach Chris Tringali said.
On the season, the team finished with 1,475 total points for an average of 57 points a night. On the other end, Chapelgate held its opponents to an average of just 44 points each time out.
Sophomore team captains Sawyer Vestrand, Jalen Morant and Brandon Wise provided most of the Yellowjackets' offensive firepower. Verstrand led the way with 370 points on the year, followed close behind by Morant (315 points) and Wise (245).
"The most exciting part of coaching this team was to experience the unity that the players cherished," Tringali said. "I could not have asked for a more unified, respectful group of players. They played with tremendous effort and integrity, while giving honor to their faith."
Led by freshman point guard Caroline Morton, who led the team in points and steals, Atholton finished with a 14-6 record this winter. And all six losses came in "close, competitive games," according to coach Avery Briscoe.
The team's three captains were sophomores Christianna Kelley, Shea Player and Sam Clearfield. "They were key to our cohesiveness as a team on the court and off the court as well. All great leaders in their own way," Briscoe said.
Sophomore Katie Cardea led the team in 3-point shooting. While the entire team showed growth throughout the season, Briscoe said Sydnee Ruley, Tye-Teona Harding and Elena Johnston in particular really stepped up their game during the second half of the year.
A season sweep of Mt. Hebron, prevailing in a pair of back-and-forth games, was among the highlights of the year.
With a county record of 17-2 and an overall mark of 20-2, Centennial finished the winter with the best JV girls basketball record.
Team captains Gracie Rockefeller (6.7 points per game and 1.8 assists per game) and Julia Grable led the team. But big contributions from sophomores Mary Grace Lambert, Gabbie Chausse, Kelli Dunagan and Mia Smith (5.5 rebounds per game) went a long way as well.
Freshmen Maiya Bumbray (9.8 ppg and 5.4 rpg) and Chandler Worthy (8.0 ppg and 8.7 rpg) were the statistical leaders. Bumbray was a late-season call-up to varsity.
"Unity, toughness and effort were the main factors of this team's success," coach Billy Martin said. "This team was an extremely tight-knit group, who played together and always put the team first. They were the epitome of what a real team should be. The girls also played with great toughness all season; they made defense the priority and took pride in aggressively shutting other teams down."
Among the biggest wins came in early January against Atholton, where the Eagles used a big comeback to earn a victory in a game that pitted two undefeated county teams up against one another. The team was down by nine points in the third quarter before stepping up on defense to earn a nine-point win.
A victory over River Hill, where all 11 girls on the team contributed, and then another win over Atholton were also highlights. Against the Raiders the second meeting, the Eagles were coming off a loss against Howard and battled through a couple injuries to win with the county-championship on the line.
"Throughout the whole season, the girls showed the concentration, confidence, and composure needed to be successful on the court and off," Martin said. "The girls showed incredible effort and toughness all season. Their teamwork, effort, and toughness all season led to a 20-2 overall record and a county championship."
Hammond finished with an overall record of 5-15. Sophomore Ashlyn McInerney led the team on the season offensively with 238 total points, including a season-high of 36 points in a 44-32 win over Edgewood.
Other standouts were sophomore Lise Clark — a team leader in rebounds — and freshman Nyelle Allen — a team leader in blocks per game (2.3).
Even through there were just three returning players on the 11-player roster for Howard, it was a very successful season for the Lions on the way to a 16-3 county record. The returning players — Jessica Vetter, Elesha Jackson and Madison Savje — all were vital to the team's success.
"They made an immediate impact on the younger players with their demonstration of hard work each day — game and practice," coach James Stewart said. "The attitude of hard work quickly resonated through several of the freshmen."
Freshmen Jenna Pasternak, Macy Thomas and Lauren Ciepiela all thrived in starting roles. Supporting players Mya McConnell, Vivian Williams, Samantha Cavanaugh, Emani Kelly and Noelani Kelly all made big impacts as they worked on their fundamentals and skills.
Following a team meeting after its third loss of the season, Howard pulled together to win 12 straight games. Included in that stretch was victories over each of the teams that the Lions had lost to earlier in the year.
With an overall record of 14-6, it was a strong season for Marriotts Ridge. Coach Dave Bond says one of the goals for this year was to never allow an opponent to score 40 points against them and the team met that mark. The highest points against for the Mustangs was 39, one of which came in an overtime victory over Mt. Hebron.
On the season, Marriotts Ridge held their opposition to just 25 percent shooting from the field and an average of 22 points per game. On the other side, the Mustangs averaged 33 points per game offensively.
Jenna Kohler, Brigit Crosby, Azaria Smith and Tyler Colburn were the players on the team that finished the season with the most points. All four finished with 11 points of one another, with Kohler leading the team with 84.
"This team did a great job focusing on playing great defense and trying to convert that into points on the offensive end," Bond said. "They took great pride in playing every player in every game and working hard as a team to prevent the other team from scoring."
Overall there were four sophomores on the team — two of which were hurt most of the season and one that called up to varsity in the middle of the year — and 10 freshmen.
Mt. Hebron had another strong season, finishing 12-6 in county and 13-7 overall. The team's sophomore core, including captains Julia Cargiulo and Erin Rogers, led the way.
Ava Dennis was the one who ran the offense and Megan Holtzman was a defensive stand out. Holtzman provided great toughness and was used against the opposition's strongest player. Julia Leishear was converted from guard to forward this year.
"This team focused on strong defensive and offensive fundamentals to win," coach Dennis Kelliher said.
Megan Reese and Blaire Ridgely highlighted the freshmen class, with both providing strong minutes off the bench. "We look forward to another good season next year with so many players returning," Kelliher said.
Oakland Mills did not win any games this season, but the team did show improvement and growth throughout the year.
"I told the kids I was not here to win a lot of games, but to teach the game in terms of fundamentals and get them ready to one day play on the varsity level," said coach Roch DeFrances, who was in his first season with the program after several seasons leading the Atholton JV squad.
The team did come very close to a victory, losing by just one point against Long Reach at the buzzer. Brianna Brown, Micah Brown and Tashea Chance were all called up to the varsity team for the playoffs.
"Hopefully the kids will play during the offseason and be much improved for next year," DeFrances said.
Reservoir finished with a 7-13 county record (7-15 overall), having several individual standouts along the way. Jenni Fourney finished as the team's leading scorer with 10.5 points a game, while Juli Hancock was the leading rebounder at six rebounds a contest. Other statistical leaders were Gabby Clark for steals (5.0 average) and Breann Smith for blocked shots (3.8 average per game).
Among the season highlights was a 37-34 win over Glenelg. "We were in sixth place in the standings and they were in second and it was only their second loss at the time," coach James Mackin said.
With wins in 10 of its last 14 county games, River Hill closed out the season on a high note on the way to a 10-10 overall record (10-8 in county play). Turnaround wins over Reservoir and Atholton showcased just how far the team had come.
The Hawks lost to Reservoir in the Big Doug Classic and then just 10 days later beat the Gators. And against Atholton, a team that defeated the Hawks by 23 early in the season, River Hill defeated the Raiders in the regular-season finale.
Lexi Thielemann, participating in her first year of basketball, led the Hawks in scoring (7.4 points per game) and rebounding (7.0 rebounds per game). Maggie O'Keefe, a freshman, was the Hawks second leading scorer.
Sophomore captains Marissa Mazzella and Nicole Wesche led the Hawks as team captains. Mazzella led the team in assists and was third in scoring, while Wesche was second in rebounds and fourth in scoring. Mazzella was called up to varsity at the conclusion of the JV season, where she played a few crucial minutes in both the Mt. Hebron and Glenelg playoff games.
"With the strong sophomore leadership, and the strong play of first-year players Thielemann and O'Keefe, the young Hawks (really) progressed," coach Brittany Coughlan said.
The JV county championship cheerleading competition was held on Feb. 3 at Wilde Lake High School, with seven schools participating.