In many respects, Long Reach's Lyric Swann has been a star from the moment she arrived as a high school freshman in 2015.
The speedy guard with long curly hair and silky smooth jump shot was a second-team all-county performer in that initial campaign for the Lightining and then garnered first-team accolades as a sophomore. She was among the county's top 10 scorers each season as well.
And yet, even with that initial success, Swann says she entered this past offseason hungrier than ever.
An injury sustained during the 2017 playoffs — one that had her playing at less than 100 percent in a regional championship loss against Atholton and left her in a boot for more than a month — made her realize how badly she wanted to get back on the court and become even stronger.
"Having that injury, having that time just watching and being unable to play, it really motivated me. I think it kind of made me realize even more how much I love the game and how much I wanted to put in the work to become the best player I could possibly be," Swann said. "I would say between all my training, playing with AAU, working with my mom — yeah, last offseason was probably the most dedicated I've ever been."
Swann ended up taking a season off from playing for the Lightning girls soccer team last fall, spending the extra time focusing all her energy on basketball-related activities.
It didn't take long once the high school basketball season rolled around to see that all the hard work had paid off.
"I saw her a good bit over the summer, I try to get to as many AAU games as I can, so I saw the improvement and, you have to remember, she was already one of the top few players in the county. But what I think took her to the next level was her precision and increased ability to create off the dribble," Long Reach coach Kelli Cofield said. "She's always had the shooting ability and the range, but she became so much stronger with the ball and developed that ability to get wherever she wanted on the court. With her combination dribbles that allowed her to create space, she literally could score anywhere on the floor."
Swann ended up as the county's leading scorer this winter as a junior with a scoring average of 19.3 points game — up from 13.8 as a sophomore. She hit 71 threes, nearly double the 38 she hit a year earlier, and also posted averages of 3.2 steals and 2.7 assists a game.
Arguably even more impressive, Swann finished the year as the area's only player to score in double figures in every single game.
It is because of that consistency for a Long Reach team that made program history — winning county and region championships for the first time — that Swann has been named the Howard County Times/Columbia Flier girls basketball Player of the Year.
"This honor, it's really humbling and I can't say enough how amazing this season was and how much my amazing teammates played a role in my personal success,"Swann said. "It truly is a blessing to see all the hard work come to fruition."
According to Cofield, Swann is the definition of a "gym rat." And it's that enjoyment of practice and fitness training that led to her getting involved with a number of different area facilities and trainers. She's been a regular at Rhythm Dribble, Triple Threat Training and Axis for a couple years now. During this season, she also took the opportunity to get extra shots up using the shooting gun at Premier Training in Baltimore.
But it's her mother, Karyn, who she says she works with the most. Karyn Swann, who also coaches the Maryland Blazers AAU team that Lyric and her twin sister Jaelyn play on, was a first-team all-county player herself during her high school playing days at Wilde Lake.
"My mom, I owe so much to her … all the hours she's spent working with me on all areas of my game," Lyric Swann said. "My shooting, my mechanics, she's the one who has helped me really develop those things."
It's that shooting stroke that has become Swann's calling card. This winter, she shot 37 percent from beyond the arc (71-190). Throw in an improved mid-range game and an ability to get herself to the rim and Swann showcased herself as the complete package.
For a Long Reach team that opened the year with nine straight victories, Swann scored 12 or more points in each of those contests. Included in that run to open the season was a team-high 19 points in a win over eventual co-county-champion Howard.
"I think that Howard game, going in as the last two teams still undefeated and beating them by 20, that was when we realized the sky was the limit for us," Swann said. "I think that set the tone for our season."
Long Reach ended up losing just twice during the regular season, against McDonogh and in the rematch against Howard. But even in those defeats, Swann led the way with 15 and 19 points, respectively.
In many respects, she was at her best when the lights were the brightest.
"We were blessed to have three, nearly four, double-digit scorers this year, but I think what made Lyric stand out was that consistency and her ability to play her best against the best. Even when a part of her game may have been a little off, say the 3-point shot wasn't falling, she found other ways to score and help us be successful,"Cofield said.
In the team's final three playoff games, she was the team's leading scorer with an average of 20.7 points in those contests. Against Poly in the 3A state semifinals, it was her four-point play with just over a minute left that served as the decisive moment in a 66-61 win.
While the team's bid for a state championship fell short against Frederick, Swann's 18 points went a long way to keep the Lightning close until the late stages of the fourth quarter.
"I really love playing in big games and having the ball in the big moments like the Poly game. That's why I train the way I do, to prepare myself for that," she said. "And I think getting to the finals, even though we came up short, it's just given me even more motivation to try and get back there and finish it off next year."
While Swann still has her senior year ahead of her, she already know what her future beyond high school holds. Last summer, she verbally committed to continue her playing career at UMBC.
Swann, who maintains a 4.3 GPA said that the honors school offers the perfect mix of academics and athletics.
"They have always been close to me, close to my family. My mom went there, so it's just always felt like home," she said. "I'm very excited for the opportunity, but first I've got one more year here at Long Reach. And we've still got some unfinished business."
To see all the final Howard County girls basketball stat leaders from this past winter, CLICK HERE.
Named to the all-county first team are:
Taylor Addison, Howard. The reining Howard County Player of the Year was once again the leader for a Lions team that won a piece of the program's third straight county championship. Addison finished as the team leader in points (14.3 average), rebounds (11.7) and steals (3.1) and was a major reason Howard went 22-2 this winter.
"Taylor brings a physical toughness to our team, rebounding, diving on the floor and going after every loose ball," Howard coach Scott Robinson said. "She's a good student, good player and, most importantly, a great role model for our younger players."
The senior forward was a key on the team's press break and was a more-than-capable ball handler. But it was her rebounding — despite often giving up a few inches to her opposition — that truly sets her apart. She not only led the Lions in rebounds for a third straight year but was also the county's top player in that respect this winter.
"She averaged a double-double despite averaging just 22 minutes played per game, so her rebounding in relation to minutes played was truly remarkable," Robinson said. "She's just so strong and has great instincts, which is why she's always been such a dominant force on the boards."
Addison will play at Mount St. Mary's next year.
Emily Dorn, Reservoir. A Player of the Year candidate, Dorn got better and better as the year went on. Her averages of 16.1 points, 11.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game all ranked among the top four in Howard County this year.
She was slowed during the month of December by an ankle sprain that she suffered during soccer season. But after the turn of the New Year, she found a different gear and helped the Gators rebound from a 1-6 start to win 14 of their last 17 games.
After playing predominantly in the post her previous two seasons, she was vastly improved on the perimeter as well and that versatility created match-up nightmares for the opposition. Dorn hit 15 threes this winter, after hitting a combined six her first two years in high school, and still boasted one of the top interior skill sets as well.
"We sat down at the end of last year and talked about the things that I wanted her to work on, and she did every single one of them," Reservoir coach Deb Taylor said. "She added the three-point shot, improved her ball handling and really developed that inside-outside game. We were able to move her out to the three spot, allowing us to play a big line-up and create some real mismatches."
Dorn's season high ended up being 27 points in a win over Marriotts Ridge in January and she closed the year with seven straight double-doubles. And even in the team's season-ending overtime loss to Long Reach in the 3A East region semifinals, she delivered one of her best games with 21 points and 19 rebounds.
Jess Foster, Glenelg. An all-county selection for the fourth straight year, the Gladiators' senior guard was one of Howard County's top scorers from Day 1 this winter. She exploded for what ended up being a season-high 35 points in a season-opening victory over Century and that set the tone for a year in which she finished second in the county with an average of 19.2 points a game.
She scored over 20 points on 12 occasions and led the county in 3-pointers made (74) and free throw percentage (80.2). And while she certainly was a sharp-shooter from the perimeter, her coach Chris Beil said she was so much more than that this season.
"Jess being a captain the last two years, she understood what it took to lead the team and she took it upon herself to help the other players to improve. She realized that if she got her teammates involved early and often, that would open up things for her later in the game,"Beil said. "And individually, her game evolved from being a guard who really just shot the three, to someone who could dribble and create."
Foster, who will play at Christopher Newport next year, also averaged 2.2 assists per game. While the Gladiators' season ended with a two-point loss in the 2A South region semifinals against Oakland Mills, Beil said that his senior guard went out on a high note with a team-high 20 points in that contest.
"She scored the last eight points of the game and nearly helped us come back and win," he said. "She literally left it all on the court and even though we didn't win, I thought it put a nice ending on her career here."
Aislynn Riggs, Oakland Mills. The Scorpions' junior forward improved by leaps and bounds this winter, becoming one of the county's top interior players. Her 12 points per game were the 12th most in the league, but it was her rebounding (11.6 a game) and blocked shots (6.7) — both among the top two in the county — that truly set her apart.
Her 175 total blocks this season are the most by a Howard County player in the last 20 years.
"She's always had great timing in terms of blocks, but she got better and better as the year went on. She developed great strategy, really taking control of our defense and she was able to really shape how we were able to play," Oakland Mills coach Walt Hagins said. "She was able to block a shot, grab the rebound and then take it coast to coast and finish. By the end of the season, she was literally doing a little bit of everything for us."
Her efforts helped Oakland Mills make major improvements as a team as well, finishing with a record of 17-8 and securing the 2A South regional championship just one year after winning only 10 games.
It was in the postseason that Riggs put together some of her best performances. In the regional semifinals against Glenelg, she had 12 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks and then in a regional championship victory over Westlake she had 24 points, 13 rebounds and nine blocks. Then finally she saved her best for last, registering a triple-double (17 points, 16 rebounds and 11 blocks) in the state semifinals against Queen Anne's.
Tori Valentine, Mt. Hebron. As far as two-way players go, there were none better than the Vikings' sophomore guard this winter. Already established as a lock-down defender, she became one of the county's top offensive players as well this season with a scoring average of 15.4 points a game. She ended up scoring in double figures in 18 of the 20 games that she played, including a season-high 25 points against Long Reach in January.
"She's always been a defensive specialist, and she takes great pride in that, but this year you finally saw her offense start catching up to her defense. That's a testament to how much work she has put in," Mt. Hebron coach Tony Bell said.
Valentine battled through a hip flexor injury early in the season, missing three games, before returning to form and helping the Vikings to their longest winning streak of the season —four straight —between the end of December and beginning of January. As the year progressed, Bell said Valentine played with maturity well beyond her years.
"I've put a lot of pressure on her, going back all the way to when she came in as a freshman, but she's always stepped up and handled it," Bell said. "Her poise and consistency is crazy for a sophomore."
Kiana Williams, Long Reach. As the lone senior on a Lightning team that went 21-3 and rolled to county and region titles, along with an appearance in the 3A state championship game, Williams literally did a little bit of everything. She was Long Reach's floor leader from her point guard position, the county's leader in assists (7.3 average) and steals (4.6) and showcased the ability to elevate her game in the biggest moments.
More than anything, though, Long Reach coach Kelli Cofield said that Williams — who will play at Bethune-Cookman University next year — was responsible for changing the trajectory of the program.
"From the time she came in as a 14-year-old freshman until now, she was able to catapult us into greatness and change how people view Long Reach girls basketball. The load I've asked her to carry has been unbelievably heavy, but she's handled it every step of the way,"Cofield said. "You are only as good as your leader and she was as good as they come."
Williams, who ended up surpassing 1,000 points for her career during the regular season, actually sacrificed her scoring numbers a great deal during December in order to help establish those around her. But once the second-half of the season rolled around, she flipped the switch to become one of the area's elite scorers. She registered six games of 23 or more points during the final 12 games of the year, including a career-high 40 points in a win over Atholton, on the way to finishing third in the county with a scoring average of 17.5 points a game.
"Kiana came into this season as a proven scorer, but she also realized what was necessary for us to become the best team we could be and that was getting her teammates going," Cofield said. "I think she sometimes enjoyed the passes and setting things up as much as she liked scoring, which says a lot about her unselfishness. For her, winning has always been the most important thing. That's what makes us having the best season in program history, during this her senior year, so special."
Latest Howard County Sports
Reach Brent Kennedy at email@example.com or follow him on twitter @BKBSunSports