No one ever would mistake Mia Dammen and Stefanie Magro for twins, but on the basketball court the Oakland Mills High School backcourt could be called twin nightmares.
Sure, they differ in certain areas.Magro is the better ballhandler, hence her point guard position. Sheis also the better shooter -- as her team-leading 49 percent field goal percentage reveals. From the 12- to 14-foot range, she can be deadly.
Dammen brings other dimensions to her game. She's the most improved free-throw shooter on the team, having added about 20 points to her foul-shooting percentage, now at 67. She's also added an improved outside shot and has become a threat from the three-point range. And if a lane opens, she drives to the basket as quickly as any player in the league.
But when you talk about Oakland Mills and its 41-6 record over the past two seasons -- highlighted by the Scorpions' first trip to the state tournament tomorrow -- you have to start with defense. And when you talk about the Scorpions' defense, you have to beginwith Dammen and Magro, the cornerstones of their man-to-man alignment.
The defense, which has given up just 36.4 points a game, is predicated on forcing turnovers to create high-percentage shots, ideallyfast-break layups. Few have applied the pressure and turned it into quick points as well as Dammen and Magro, who have combined for nearly half the Scorpions' 62.5 points per game this year.
Opponents have committed an average of 24 turnovers against Oakland Mills. Most of them have been caused by the quick hands, anticipation, speed and all-out hustle of you-know-who.
"They're (Dammen and Magro) both such great athletes with such great quickness, and they work so hard," says Mount Hebron coach Dave Greenberg, whose county champion Vikingssuffered their only league loss against Oakland Mills. "They give you a lot to handle, especially at the defensive end."
Of the two, Dammen has received more acclaim over the past two years, both because of the statistics she has produced and the aggressive bump-and-grind style in which she's achieved them. A First Team All-County selection last year who is headed for repeat honors, the 5-foot-8 Dammen leads the team in scoring (17.8), steals (11.6) and assists (6.2), and averages 6.4 rebounds.
Then there are the intangibles.
"I don'tknow if I've ever seen a girl compete as hard in any sport as she (Dammen) does. I don't want this to sound wrong, but she's like a bullyout there," says Howard coach Craig O'Connell, whose Lions were burned by Dammen for a career-high 32 points in the regular-season finale, a 66-54 Scorpions victory.
Dammen, who broke the 1,000-point career scoring barrier in that game, came back to haunt the Lions one last time Saturday in the Class 3A Region I championship game -- ironically in Magro's absence.
Magro was rushed to Howard County GeneralHospital Saturday afternoon after experiencing an appendicitis attack. Dammen stepped into the point guard role and contributed 14 points, seven assists, 11 rebounds and five steals.
Teresa Waters, the Scorpions' coach, understands O'Connell's assessment. "Mia is so aggressive. She justs busts butt all the time," Waters says. "If someone is beginning to lag, Mia is the first one to push them. You don't findthat many girls who are as gung-ho or outspoken as her."
Dammen concurs. "I grade myself highest in determination and desire," she says. "That can help any athlete a lot, regardless of how much skill they have."
Magro's numbers may not be as high (11.5 points, 6.7 steals, 2.7 assists), but they are deceiving. For one, many of Dammen's steals have resulted from Magro forcing opposing ball-handlers to turntheir backs on Dammen. Many of Magro's passes have been too quick and unexpected for teammates to handle, which partly explains her lowerassist average.
"Mia gets more credit because she gets so many steals and scores more points, and she deserves credit for that," Greenberg says. "But Stefanie in my opinion is the toughest defensive player we've faced all year."
"Stefanie is more low-key," Waters adds.She's also more stylish and more of a finesse player. Things come more naturally to her. She enables a lot of Mia's steals to happen."
The Dammen-Magro combination has been one of Oakland Mills' best in the last four years. It actually goes back to the sixth grade, and has produced its most notable moments on the soccer field.
Dammen and Magro have played soccer together year-round in prestigious programs like the Columbia (now Princeton) Blast, and have played on severalMaryland State Teams together.
They've each been four-year starters at Oakland Mills, where each has been an All-County First Team selection for the past three. Dammen, a center halfback, was the Howard County Sun's Player of the Year last fall. Magro, a forward, was the team's leading scorer and nearly won the award.
Their basketball association has followed a similar path. They each got into the Columbia Basketball Association as sixth-graders, and by the time they reached their sophomore years, they had played AAU Junior Olympics ball together and were ready for the varsity. Dammen started as a sophomore. Magro became a starter last year. From there, they've led the Scorpions to their best two-year run in school history.
"We know each other, you could say," says Magro, who sports a 3.8 grade-point average and plans to study engineering. She is undecided about her collegechoice, but wants to continue playing soccer.
"We rely on each other to be in certain spots in certain situations," she adds. "Basically, we're in sync. And we're really good friends. On the basketball court and on the soccer field, we're really competitive with each other. We're always pushing each other."
"Sometimes we play one-on-one, and it gets touchy," says Dammen. "But any time two people are as competitive as we are, that will happen."
Dammen has a 3.9 GPA and is headed most likely to Brown on an academic scholarship. She wants to play soccer and basketball while studying international relations.
"We just shrug it off, because it's no big deal. We're closer than anybody on the team, and besides, we make each other better. We've learned to make it a good kind of friction."