I dare Dave Greenberg to top this one.
I dare him to take anotherundersized, banged-up Mount Hebron team to the state girls basketball tournament and come away with another state championship.
Now that he's tied the state record with six titles -- by virtue of his Vikings' 60-52 victory over Parkside, Wicomico County, in Saturday's 2A final -- Greenberg can start devising ways to one-up this year's accomplishments.
It certainly won't be easy.
Then again, as Greenberg has said more than once, "People don't realize how toughit is."
You almost want to question that assertion, what with theway Greenberg has churned out county, regional and state championships over his 13 years at Hebron.
He has 11 county titles under his belt. He's won five state titles in the last six seasons and is six-for-six in state title games.
Last weekend at Catonsville CommunityCollege, you got an idea of what Greenberg was talking about.
TheVikings, 21-3 with a county championship and a 13-game winning streak, didn't sneak into the tournament. They never do. With their track record, the Vikings could be spectators and still draw concerned looks from the floor.
But last weekend, Hebron brought a team hamperedby injury to Catonsville, then suffered another key injury. The Vikings got out-rebounded and outshot in the semifinal against Glenelg and in the final against Parkside.
And not only did they still pull it off, they never trailed in the tournament.
Before we get to themain reasons Hebron prevailed -- good defense and the greatest addition to the game, the three-point shot -- let's count the wounded who strolled into the Catonsville gym.
There was senior guard Melissa Murdza, a victim of the same kind of knee injury that ended point guard Amy Eberhart's season the week before last year's state tournament(have we heard this song before?). Murdza, fresh off knee surgery, sported a large brace and crutches on the Hebron bench. Even Eberhart -- now at Towson State on a basketball scholarship -- dropped by to watch. She also wore a brace, a mark of the surgery she underwent in January.
Then there was senior Tracie Eckstein, who has been out all year with a neck injury, sitting next to Murdza. Heck, even Greenberg was hurting. He was a few days shy of arthroscopic surgery on a bum shoulder.
Next were the wounded-in-uniform. Erica McCauley, the sophomore point guard and leader of the Vikings, spent most of the week avoiding practice while getting treatment for a recurring lower back problem. She looked rusty and uncomfortable in the 47-40 victory over Glenelg in Friday's semifinal, yet managed 13 points, although itwas on subpar 4-for-15 shooting.
Things got even more interestingat the end -- literally, the final second -- of the Glenelg game, when Christy McCauley went down at midcourt with a sprained ankle. Things got tense during Saturday's pre-game warm-up, when she was limpingterribly.
"I didn't think I'd be able to play," said McCauley, who had the tape cut in spots to allow the ankle flexibility. "It helped, but the pain didn't ease up that much. It was still really hurtingout there."
Which brings us to another reason Hebron celebrated Saturday. Toughness. The kind of toughness that pushed the McCauley sisters to overcome their ailments and make critical contributions to the Parkside victory.
Erica was the game's star with a team-high 18points, three assists and nine forced turnovers. She scored the game's first nine points to put Parkside in a hole from which it would never emerge. She broke Parkside's heart with the shot of the tournament -- an incredible 22-footer from the right corner as time expired inthe first half. Erica caught the inbound pass with her back to the basket, leaped, spun 180 degrees, fired and hit nothing but net. That sent the Vikings into the locker room with a 40-27 lead.
Christy, who had scored a team-high 15 points Friday, scored just five Saturday, but they came on two important baskets. Three points came on a trey that helped stave off a 13-0 Parkside run that pulled the Rams to within 43-40 with 2:28 left in the third period, the closest the Rams would get. Two more came on a 10-footer with 2:15 left in the game that kept the Vikings nine points ahead.
Amazingly, Christy also grabbed a team-high six rebounds on that bad ankle. And she made Greenberg's "play of the game" when she took a charge from Parkside's 6-footcenter Keisha Camper -- who scored 26 points on 12-for-17 shooting -- with 6:34 left in the game and Hebron leading, 53-46.
Other players emerged for Hebron, as they always seem to do. Senior guard Cescili Drake played her usual dogged defense in both games, and she came through in a big way offensively with 12 points against Parkside, including some tough baskets in transition.
Senior forward Andrea Dayrebounded from a rough offensive game (one point) against Glenelg toscore nine against Parkside. And Day was the key defensively. After Camper had scored 17 first-half points, Day stayed on her like a cheap suit in the Vikings' man-to-man and held her to nine second-half points, two in the fourth quarter. The reason for Camper's drought was simple. She couldn't get her hands on the ball.
Day's second-half defense was a perfect example of why Hebron continues such success under Greenberg. Sure, the Vikings have been blessed with the obvious talent of an Amy Mallon or a Justine Chaverini or a Dorethea Beck or an Erica McCauley over the years.
But the Vikings win for other fine-print reasons, as Greenberg insists.
Much of it has to do with the fundamentals he teaches so well. But somewhere down the line -- maybe after his third or fourth county title --Greenberg convinced the girls lucky enough to come through his program that the system is theking, that we play defense here, that roles must be learned and appreciated, that players must do the things that go unnoticed in box scores. When these things happen, the victories come.
The proof was all over the floor last weekend. Sophomore Kris Bryant, who comes off the bench, scored only three points but drew rave reviews from Greenberg for "the hellacious screens" she set. Sophomore Tierney Clark, who plays five minutes if she's lucky, made the perfect bounce pass that preceded Erica McCauley's wonderful shot. Sophomore Sandra Benson played only five minutes but gave the Vikings four points and four rebounds.
Then there's sophomore Lori Pasquantonio, who didn't even play and rarely does. You'd never know it by talking to Erica McCauley.
"Lori pressures me so much in practice, it's harder to go against her in practice than it is against most of the people who guard me in games," she said. "Melissa was the same way before she got hurt.
"Everyone is a big part of this, even the ones who don't play."