Some were surprised when an unranked Loch Raven girls basketball team upset then-No. 10 Mercy in its season-opener.
Count Loch Raven senior guard/forward Shelley Klaes among them. But when the initial shock of the 50-41 victory wore off, Klaes and her teammates realized something about themselves.
"I really didn't think we were all that good," Klaes said. "But when we won that game, it was like, 'whoa, we really do have a good team.' "
Said Loch Raven coach Diane George: "Mercy has a really good program, and that game opened our eyes as to the potential of our team."
Gradually, the eyes of Raiders' opponents were opened as well.
Nineteen consecutive victories followed the win over Mercy, as 10th-ranked Loch Raven (20-1) won the Baltimore County 2A-1A Division and secured the top seed in the Class 2A, Region II playoffs.
Now the Raiders -- whose 20-game winning streak ended with a 49-44 loss to No. 8 Randallstown in the Baltimore County championship game Saturday -- are hoping their surprising season will climax with a state championship.
"We'd love to go to the state semifinals," Loch Raven senior guard Michele DeJuliis said.
If the Raiders make it to the region final on Saturday, they will most likely have to play either third-ranked Mount Hebron or fourth-ranked Hammond.
Hammond is the defending Class 2A state champion and Mount Hebron -- which eliminated Loch Raven in the regional playoffs two of the last three seasons -- is seeking its sixth state title in eight years.
"The Howard County schools are so well-coached," said George, in her eighth season at Loch Raven. "But I think we're quicker than Hebron, and we're as quick as Hammond. We can match up better than we have in the past."
Quickness and athleticism are the main ingredients in the Raiders' success.
"We don't have outstanding basketball players, but we do have real good athletes who play with a lot of heart, desire and hustle," George said. "We've also had very unselfish play."
The result is a cohesive, balanced offense. DeJuliis leads the team in scoring (13.4 points per game), followed by Klaes (11.7) and senior forward Robyn Disney (8.7).
Disney is pulling down a team-high 6.5 rebounds per game, followed by Klaes (6.0).
Klaes attributes the team's unselfish attitude to the players' familiarity with each other.
"Most of us play two or three sports together, so we know each other's strengths and weaknesses," she said.
"We're not these incredible basketball players. We just want to win."