At first, the pressure got to Francis Scott Key guard/forward Maureen Ritcey.
Ritcey, a sophomore, lacked confidence earlier this season, her first on the varsity. Trying to make the transition from JV to varsity caused Ritcey to doubt her ability.
"Sometimes, especially toward the beginning of the season, I felt nervous and in over my head a little," said Ritcey. "The whole level of play was more intense."
Ritcey eventually convinced herself that she could play varsity basketball -- something coach Brian Hollingsworth and teammates already believed -- and became a starter and an important contributor to the up-and-coming Francis Scott Key team.
Ritcey led Key's JV in scoring last year, and Hollingsworth nearly brought her up at the end of the season. Ritcey made the varsity this year, as the first player off the bench.
She showed frequent flashes of talent that impressed Hollingsworth, but Ritcey occasionally struggled.
Ritcey admits she did not want to shoot often. In fact, Ritcey said the less she did, the better she felt.
"In the way she talked at times, we could see [her lack of confidence]," said Hollingsworth. "Like I told her, if I didn't think she could do the job, I would have sent her back down."
Gradually, Ritcey's play and confidence improved. Hollingsworth inserted her into the starting lineup in the eighth game of the season. After a slow start there, Ritcey came on.
She finally turned the corner following a rough game against Quince Orchard around the holiday break. She convinced herself that she had the ability and only needed to believe in herself.
"I decided I was going to go all out," said Ritcey. "At least I would be happy that I'm doing my best."
Ritcey then found consistency. Following her pep talk, Ritcey "got out of the fours" and scored eight points in the next game. Since then, Ritcey has played very well.
She averages 5.2 points per game, third best on the team, and she ranks fourth on the team with an average of 3.6 rebounds per game.
Francis Scott Key, which won only five games last year but is 8-9 through its first 17 games this season, benefited from Ritcey's strong play.
For example, the Eagles beat Walkersville and Smithsburg in their past two games, and Ritcey contributed 12 points and seven rebounds in the first game and six points, 10 rebounds, one block and one assist in the second.
"I'm starting to feel more comfortable playing," said Ritcey. "I'm starting to get back into my game."
And her game is versatility. It's not uncommon to see Ritcey, 5-foot-6, play guard and both forward positions in a game.
That impressed Hollingsworth immediately. Her ability to move from one position to another gives the coach more options.
"It's an added dimension," said Hollingsworth. "I can play her so many different places."
Hollingsworth credits some of Ritcey's success to her two years of recreation basketball before coming to Key.
Ritcey undoubtedly will become more important to the Eagles during the next two years. Francis Scott Key loses its two top scorers -- Erin Murphey (16.1) and Shelley Smith (11.5) -- to graduation, and someone will need to fill that void.
Ritcey should score a lot of those points. The sophomore is starting to get the attention of opposition defenses and notice around the Monocacy Valley Athletic League.
"Now she's looking for the shots, and they're starting to fall," said Hollingsworth.
Key is in the hunt for a regional playoff spot, and Ritcey said she is eager to play in the postseason.
For herself, Ritcey holds a simple goal.
"I'm happy with what I've done. . . . I just want to keep improving," said Ritcey. "I don't want to get in a rut."