It is a new look year for Howard County girls basketball.
With most of the top players from a year ago either lost to graduation or injury, there will be new faces being asked to step up for nearly every team. It's a reality that has the potential to create an open race atop the county standings.
"There are a lot of young teams in the county this year," said Mt. Hebron coach Anthony Bell, who not only graduated seven seniors from last year's team, but also lost a potential Player of the Year candidate in forward Gabby Green to injury. "I know Hammond is very young, they have a good freshmen class. Long Reach, they have an amazing freshmen class. I know Reservoir has a good player, 5'11 freshman, who can flat out play…I think Atholton and Glenelg to me have the most talent returning. Experience tends to do things."
The only all-county player stepping back on the court is Glenelg sophomore Jessica Foster, who made second-team as a freshman. The talented guard ranked fourth in the county last year in points per game (13.6), and also led the league in made 3-pointers with 56, averaging almost three made treys an outing.
But Foster isn't the only player on the Gladiators roster that can shoot the basketball. Junior Julia Wolfrey is also a dangerous offensive threat, averaging 10.2 points per game last year, as are teammates Kellie Johnson and Chelsea Henggeler, who each recorded about six points per game a season ago.
"I return several players that scored over 200 points last year," said Glenelg coach Chris Beil. "(Foster) has worked hard in the offseason, I expect her to continue to do what she does. Junior forward Julia Wolfrey has (also) had a good offseason. She scored 220 points during her sophomore year (and) Kellie Johnson had a good freshman year. I expect her to be even better."
The Gladiators are basically the only county team to feature nearly the same group as a year ago, returning all of its key players from their 13-8 squad.
"Going in we're returning everybody, but what I've been telling everybody is, winning the county would be nice, but our goal is to win states," said Beil. "This is going to sound cheesy, but if we lose, we lose. At least we can figure out what we need to work on. We will prepare for a state title run and that is what we're looking for."
As for the rest of the top teams from last year — Mt. Hebron, Atholton, Howard, Oakland Mills and Centennial — they all lost at least one all-county player.
"I feel our first test will be against Centennial on (Dec. 16) and Howard will be a good test too. They are one of the best teams in the county and they have one of the top coaches in the county too. Howard will be a tough matchup," Beil said. "I know Hammond has gotten better and they have a good freshmen class. Hebron has five freshmen up on varsity I believe, and I know they went down, but they are always coming back, ready to battle hard."
Mt. Hebron actually brought up six freshmen, along with two sophomores, giving the Vikings the freshest look of any team entering the season. They graduated three of their top four scorers, and lost their leading-scorer, Green, to a season-ending injury during the offseason.
"If we didn't lose Gabby, it would have put us in the conversation, even with all the young players," Bell said of the 6-foot-3 Rhode Island bound senior. "She would have been Player of the Year, unless she just had a terrible season. She's the only Division I athlete in Howard County right now… She's there every day. She's like an unofficial coach. She's definitely helping out a lot. The girls elected her as captain, that's how much they respect her."
In her absence, Bell will rely heavily on senior captain Peyton LeConte — the only returning starter — to lead a young team that also touts a talented a junior transfer in Natalie Lybrook.
"I don't think Peyton is feeling the pressure because I think Peyton can relate," Bell said. "She is a four-year varsity player, she's like the common voice. It's good to hear her speak up and letting me know to slow things down, because there's so much to put in and not enough time."
Atholton lost its best player and last year's Howard County Player of the Year Chelsea Mitchell to graduation. She led the league in points (19.5 per game) and steals (4.7), while also landing in the top-10 in rebounds and assists. But with her gone, the Raiders reload, and have the core of last year's county-championship team back, including another Player of the Year candidate Francesca Vanegas. The junior guard has a great handle, and a good shooting touch. She and junior Ryan Jones will take over the reigns in 2015. Vanegas, Jones and senior Megan Hart were among the team leaders in points per game last year, as Vanegas sat second behind Mitchell, with nearly 10 points an outing. Fellow seniors Jetta Owens and Caitlyn Burmester also are looking to make an impact in their final season for the Raiders.
The Eagles and Lions followed Atholton and Mt. Hebron in the league standings last year, sitting third and fourth respectively. They each finished with the same 15-4 county mark.
Centennial enters the 2015-2016 season searching to replace the production lost from last year's all-county forward Anna Mitchell. In her place, coach Bobby Macheel will rely heavily on his senior class, which is led by guards Ally Driscoll and Jesse Dunagan.
For Howard, the graduation of its two top players in first-team all-county Natalie Talley and second-team all-county Jayda Gilmore leaves a hole. Gilmore led the team in points per-game (12.9), while Talley led the Lions in steals. However, the Lions are contenders entering the season, as coach Scott Robinson is one of the most respected coaches in the league. He'll lean on the height of senior Berit Batterton and junior Emileigh Scott in the post. The two ranked second and third on the team, respectively, in scoring last season. Some underclassmen that will see some major minutes are sophomores Taylor Addison, Courtney Furr and Deonna Jones-Carter. Expect Howard's younger players to possibly break the starting lineup, as Robinson said, he has "interchangeable parts" throughout his roster, therefore able to switch up his starting five if need be.
"There is a lot of parity in our league (this year)," said Robinson.
As for the Scorpions, they finished fifth in county and made a good playoff push, making it all the way to the 2A state semifinal. However, they also lost their top player from last season in first-team all-county guard Victoria Diggs. With her gone, coach Christina Hewitt will lean on seniors Theda Jackson and Ny'Jayha Lockwood to hold down the backcourt heading into 2015.
Two under-the-radar teams that might make a surprise run are Long Reach and Hammond. The Golden Bears were dead last in the county last year, only winning four games all season, but have some talented freshmen coming up that will help last-season's leading scorer Shawnice King. Among them are Imani Reid, Marley Grenway and Taylor Ligouri.
"I believe senior guard Shawnice King will have a great year," Reid said. "She will have an opportunity to play her game with a little less pressure due to a group of talented freshmen."
The Lightning are in a similar situation, where they have a potential all-county player in guard Kiana Williams, who is coming back for her sophomore campaign. Her and senior Ifeoma Ezimako will lead a highly anticipated freshmen class.
"(The freshmen class) all have been playing AAU ball for many years, so they're coming in with a lot of basketball experience," said Reid. "Even though they haven't been playing at the high school level, they have a really high basketball I.Q. They're going to see a lot of important minutes this season."
Both teams will play similar styles: fast, pushing the tempo and transitioning quickly.
Despite having numerous new up-and-comers amongst the players, there are only two new faces in the coaching ranks entering the season. Deb Taylor takes the reigns from seven-year coach Kyle Sullivan at Reservoir and Titorian Richardson is stepping in as head coach at Chapelgate.
Taylor is transferring over from the private school ranks, where she spent 14 seasons coaching at the IAAM A level — 12 of which were at Archbishop Spalding.
"I hope to put Reservoir back in the mix," Taylor said. "I hope we are known as a hard working, competitive program, who is fun to watch, gets the most out of all their players, and does things the right way."
Coach: Julia Reynold
2014-2015 record: 18-1 league, 22-2 overall
Top players: Seniors Megan Hart, Jetta Owens and Caitlyn Burmester; juniors Francesca Vanegas, and Ryan Jones.
What you need to know: The Raiders are the defending county champions and got all the way to the 3A East regional final before losing to Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. Atholton lost Player of the Year Chelsea Mitchell to graduation, but coach Julia Reynold is confident senior forward Caitlyn Burmester and junior guard Francesca Vanegas can shoulder the production left behind by Mitchell, who averaged 19.5 points, and 4.7 steals per game last year.
Reynold complimented Burmester and Vanegas "great instincts" and "court awareness." Also adding that Burmester will contribute offensively and defensively – which will help Atholton play its up-tempo, end-to-end style – while Vanegas can handle the basketball, to go along with her "fantastic shot" and "quick release."
A big plus for the Raiders this season is the renovation of its new gym, which will give them more home games this season than last, as well as the luxury of practicing on its home court as well.
Coach: Bobby Macheel
2014-2015 record: 15-4, 18-5
Top players: Seniors Ally Driscoll and Jesse Dunagan; sophomore Kelly Simmons.
What you need to know: The Eagles are coming off a successful year that had them sitting third behind Atholton and Mt. Hebron in the county standings.
Centennial lost first-team all-county player Anna Mitchell to graduation, as she led the Eagles in points a year ago, and ranked third among the couny's top scorers. In her place, coach Bobby Macheel is looking to seniors Ally Driscoll, Jesse Dunagan and sophomore Kelly Simmons to shoulder the load. A big strength for the Eagles will be its post play, as Macheel said a few of his players have improved that part of their game over the offseason. They will be dangerous around the basket.
"I think it will be a very even league this year," said Macheel. "As it sounds like some teams are getting excellent freshmen classes."
Coach: Chris Beil
2014-2015 record: 11-8, 13-8
Top players: Seniors Miranda Mattis, Katie Twigg and Chelsea Henggeler; junior Julia Wolfrey; sophomores Jessica Foster and Kellie Johnson.
What you need to know: Chris Beil is only carrying nine players on his roster entering the season, but seemingly will be nine-deep, as he is looking for everyone to earn time.
"I feel very comfortable running nine players," Beil said. "I feel comfortable with everyone. Last year was a learning curve, we only lost to four teams and we probably should have beat each team once."
Seniors Miranda Mattis, Katie Twigg and Chelsea Henggeler lead a young group that scored over 200 points a year ago. Look for sophomores Jessica Foster and Kellie Johnson to improve immensely from their freshmen campaigns, while junior Julia Wolfrey is coming off a 220-point season, and according to Beil has had a good offseason. Foster may be the most dangerous offensive player coming back from last season. She ranked fourth in the county in points scored, and averaged nearly 14 points per game – she was also nominated as the Fan's choice Player of the Year as a freshman last year.
"Our biggest strength I feel is our post play, as we are very deep in that department," Beil said. "I feel we were young last year, but this year we are bigger, faster, and stronger, and will exceed in areas that hurt us last year."
Coach: Raymona Reid
2014-2015 record: 2-17, 4-18
Top players: Senior Shawnice King; freshmen Imani Reid, Marley Grenway and Taylor Ligouri.
What you need to know: A difficult 2014-2015 campaign saw the Golden Bears at the bottom of the county standings last season, but the team is looking to bounce back this year. Shawnice King was second in the county in points last season, only behind Howard County's Player of the Year and Atholton graduate Chelsea Mitchell. King is back for her senior season and is looking to lead an upstart Hammond team.
A big loss is 6-foot-3 Lauryn Terry, as she chose to sit out her senior year after signing to play volleyball at North Carolina State University next fall. Terry ranked first in the county in blocks last season with nearly six a game, but coach Raymona Reid said she and the rest of the Hammond basketball family were proud of Terry for her commitment to playing at the next level. In her absence, King will take the reigns as the veteran leader, as she is primed for a breakout year. She will help acclimate promising freshmen Imani Reid, Marley Grenway and Taylor Ligouri.
"I believe this year our team strength will be pushing the ball and a quick tempo game. We are small, but quick," Reid said. "This year we will be extremely young and we definitely need some time to grow together. However, we are looking forward to a fun and competitive season."
Coach: Scott Robinson
2014-2015 record: 15-4, 17-5
Top players: Senior Berit Batterton; juniors Emileigh Scott, Sam Lewis, Jenny Kinsey and Sam Sagi; sophomores Taylor Addison, Courtney Furr and Deonna Jones-Carter.
What you need to know: The biggest loss for the Lions is first-team all-county selection, Natalie Talley, who averaged 8.2 points last season. Howard's leading scorers from a year ago were Jayda Gilmore (12.9), Emileigh Scott (9.2) and Berit Batterton (9.0). Batterton and Scott are back for their senior and junior campaigns, respectively. The two will lead a very strong Lions offense, featuring strong shooters throughout the lineup.
Juniors Sam Lewis, Jenny Kinsey, Sam Sagi and sophomores Taylor Addison, Courtney Furr and Deonna Jones-Carter will see the bulk of the minutes along with Batterton and Scott. Coach Scott Robinson can use different players at multiple positions, giving him the flexibility to alter his lineup as he see's fit.
Coach: Kelli Cofield
2014-2015 record: 7-12, 7-13
Top players: Senior Ifeoma Ezimako; junior Devon Williams; sophomore Kiana Williams.
What you need to know: The Lightning are ready to build upon their middle-of-the-pack finish a year ago. Kiana Williams led Long Reach in points and assists last year, averaging 10.4 points, and nearly two assists per game. But it may be the team's four incoming freshmen that will make the biggest impact.
"We're going to take it one game at a time, and listening to everyone in the conference, people are excited about our freshmen class and the season we're projected to have," said coach Kelli Cofield. "But we just want every day to get better. We want to play our style of basketball, and if we do what we want to do, the wins will take care of themselves."
Long Reach won't be the tallest team on the court, but Cofield is ready to push the tempo with a guard-heavy lineup. Senior Ifeoma Ezimako and junior Devon Williams will provide the veteran leadership, but look out for the incoming freshmen to play heavy minutes, as Cofield praised their "high basketball I.Q."
Coach: Caitlin Bay
2014-2015 record: 3-16, 5-17
Top players: Seniors Mackenzie Hockensmith, Jordan Stepke and Carly Miller; sophomores Hope Morath and Hannah Bergquist; freshman Mallory Conroy.
What you need to know: The Mustangs are trying to improve upon their 2014-2015 campaign, and do so by bringing back their top two leading scorers from last year. Sarah Blalock led the team offensively, averaging seven points per game, while senior Carly Miller ranked second, averaging just more than five points a contest, but Miller is working herself back from a torn ACL, and might not be at 100 percent to start the season.
Along with Miller and Blalock, fellow seniors Mackenzie Hockensmith and Jordan Stepke will be the leaders for Marriotts Ridge. Hockensmith's strong suit is her work on the boards, as she averaged five rebounds per game. Coach Caitlin Bay is looking at a ton a depth on the roster this season, as sophomores Hope Morath, Hannah Bergquist and freshman Mallory Conroy will also see plenty of playing time. The Mustangs will try and pressure on defense, and control the tempo of the game, using their quickness and athleticism throughout their lineup.
"Howard County is always competitive," Bay said. "No matter how the teams have changed or who each team has lost to injuries or graduation, every team gives us a great game."
Coach: Anthony M. Bell
2014-2015 record: 17-2, 19-4
Top players: Senior Peyton LeConte; junior Natalie Lybrook; freshmen Maura Devine, Eve Chase, Meredith Williams, Keiran Davis, Clark Oliver and Julia Rodriguez.
What you need to know: The Vikings not only lost seven seniors from last year's squad, but also lost Rhode-Island bound Gabby Green to a torn ACL in the preseason. She is the only Division I basketball commit in the county this year.
Senior Peyton LeConte is the only returning starter and will be looked to provide leadership on a very young team that features six freshmen. Coach Anthony Bell said all of his freshmen will see plenty of playing time. Mt. Hebron also picked up Spalding transfer Natalie Lybrook. The junior will also see ample playing time on the court this season.
The Vikings may have lost the most from last season, graduating first-team all-county performers, Megan Doherty, Megan Konig, and second-teamer Nia Crump, not to mention the loss of second-teamer Green. Despite all that, they are still looked at as one of the top teams in the league entering 2015.
Coach: Christina Hewitt
2014-2015 record: 11-8, 17-9
Top players: Seniors Theda Jackson, Ny'Jayha Lockwood and Brittany Weiss.
What you need to know: The Scorpions are coming off a 2A state semifinals berth. Although they did lose last year's first-team all-county guard Victoria Diggs, Oakland Mills has a good core group of girls returning, including senior leaders, Theda Jackson, Ny'Jayha Lockwood, and Brittany Weiss.
The Scorpions will look to Lockwood, who averaged 12 points per game last season, and ranked seventh in the county in points – as the go-to scorer. Jackson was second in assists on the team behind Diggs, and averaged just more than two a game – her role as distributor will no doubt be relied on heavily in 2015.
"We are excited to build on the work they have put in during the summer and fall," said coach Christina Hewitt. "I think it will be another very competitive year. I think we will see a lot of close games."
Coach: Deb Taylor
2014-2015 record: 4-15, 6-16
Top players: Senior Mary Dudzinski; juniors Kayla Wilson, Haley Tiller and Greta Schuster; sophomore Nia Powell; freshman Emily Dorn.
What you need to know: Coach Deb Taylor takes over the Gators after spending 14 years coaching at the IAAM A level. In her first year she'll look toward senior Mary Dudzinski for leadership on and off the court. The forward averaged 7.5 points per game last season, while also notching nearly two blocks and just more than five boards an outing as well.
"Mary Dudzinski had a strong junior season, but we expect her to be a leader in many offensive categories," said Taylor. "Along with her team leadership."
The best offensive weapon for Reservoir is junior guard Kayla Wilson. She was the Gators' second-leading scorer last season, managing over eight points per game.
"Kayla Wilson will step up from a role player to our go-to player," said Taylor. "(She) has the ability to create for herself and to make her teammates better."
Fellow junior guard Haley Tiller is known for her efforts on the defensive end, but Taylor believes she will make her mark on offense this season. Also watch out for newcomer Emily Dorn. The freshman will see heavy minutes in her first year.
Coach: Teresa Waters
2014-2015 record: 7-12, 8-15
Top players: Seniors Sydney Poindexter and Tiffany Howell
What you need to know: The Hawks finished in the middle of the pack last year in the county standings, and will try to build from that campaign. Unfortunately, they will be without three-year starting point guard, and last season's leading scorer Jess Hopkins, who suffered a torn ACL playing club soccer last spring. Several young players from junior varsity will play a role this season, but for a large part senior Sydney Poindexter will be River Hill's catalyst. She is coming off a junior year campaign where she averaged 9.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, and two blocks per-game.
"Sydney Poindexter has worked hard during the offseason," said Hawks coach Teresa Waters. "Hopefully things will fall in place for her this year."
Waters said she is relying on Poindexter to facilitate their strong post play this season, along with her team's scrappiness on the defensive end. Senior Tiffany Howell played some minutes last season, but this year could see a lot more time as a sixth-man off the bench.
Coach: Bob Cranford
2014-2015 record: 4-15, 4-17
Top players: Seniors Brynn Drury, Rachel Lazris and Ka'mari Robinson; juniors Tess Kostelec and Kiarra Lewis; freshman Julianna Bonner.
What you need to know: The Wildecats bring back their two top scorers from last season, in seniors Brynn Drury and Rachel Lazris. Drury and Lazris both averaged nearly 10 points per game last season, while Drury also managed 6.5 rebounds and 2.4 steals a contest. The two will try and help Wilde Lake move up the standings by the end of the year. Other returning players include senior Ka'mari Robinson, and juniors Tess Kostelec and Kiarra Lewis. Freshman Julia "Biggie" Bonner, will add size to the group, as she is expected to play some big minutes as well.
Coach: Titorian Richardson
2014-2015 record: 1-15, 1-19
Top players: Freshmen Amanda Ricket, Sydney Carnock, Dani D'Ascenzo, and Kara Davis.
What you need to know: It is the first year at the helm for coach Titorian Richardson with the Yellow Jackets, and he is hoping to have a strong rebuilding campaign.
After finishing 1-19 last season, Richardson will try and lay a new structure down and help guide Chapelgate to a few more wins in the 2015-2016 season.
"It's a rebuilding year," said Richardson after an early season game against Glenelg County on Nov. 23. "So we are going to take it one game at a time."
Sydney Carnock looks to lead the team offensively, while Amanda Ricket, Dani D'Ascenzo and Kara Davis will all play heavy minutes on a very short bench for the Yellow Jackets.
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Coach: Edward Conroy
2014-2015 record: 5-11, 5-14
Top players: Senior Alayna Newsome; juniors Kathleen DeLeonibus and Kat Seitz; freshmen Taylor Denny, Taylor Gillis, Olivia O'Leary, Brianna Chun, Lola Hankins and Joy Hursey.
What you need to know: The Dragons are very young, but filled with talent, as they boast seven freshmen on their 10-man roster. And seemingly, they all look to make a big impact.
"We have a tremendous number of athletes in the class of 2019," said coach Edward Conroy. "With that much talent and inexperience it is a different kind of team to lead as a coach and for a captain (captain Alayna Newsome is the only senior on the roster). The team is very enthusiastic and athletic, but we'll have to make sure we have the savvy to stand up to many more experienced teams, especially in the second half of the year."
Games to circle on the schedule include Garrison Forest – which are favored in the IAAM-C, as it went undefeated last year and went on to win the C title. Indian Creek, Catholic and Our Lady of Mount Carmel are also big matchups for Glenelg Country this season.