On paper, St. Frances coach Jerome Shelton knew his team had the talent to contend in the Catholic League this season.
He also knew that games weren't won on paper. Shelton faced the challenge of blending a talented group of underclassmen with a core of upperclassmen who had grown accustomed to losing.
Shelton, The Baltimore Sun's 1992-93 Baltimore City Girls Basketball Coach of the Year, answered the challenge. He led the 15th-ranked Panthers to a 19-8 record and a third-place finish in the league.
St. Frances was coming off a 9-16 season and a last-place finish in the league. "Team chemistry was our first order of business," Shelton said.
The season started well for St. Frances, which won six of its first seven and cracked the top 10 in The Baltimore Sun's poll. But there were some rough spots, too.
The Panthers were upset by Arundel and the Institute of Notre Dame and did not play well in losses to McDonogh and Mercy.
"We had some good stretches where we played well, and we also had a few stretches where we showed our youth," Shelton said. "In the past, we were trying to be giant killers. Now the giant killers were coming after us. That was the biggest lesson we had to learn. It changed my whole style of coaching.
"I tried to get the players to understand that you have to build on your success. You have to continue to work harder and harder. We had to continue to grow to show we deserved to be where we were."
By the season's end, Shelton had the Panthers playing well again.
They nearly upset Mercy in the Catholic League tournament before ending the season with a 49-43 overtime victory over No. 16 Archbishop Spalding in the tournament consolation game.
The first team at a glance
Mercy, senior, center
Mercy coach Mary Ella Marion was counting on Belz to raise her level of play a notch this season, and she delivered. Belz led the Sharpshooters in scoring (16.7) and rebounding (11.5). A consistent player and a force inside, Belz has narrowed her college choices to Adelphi, Bloomsburg and Millersville.
St. Frances, soph., guard/forward
She is one of the main reasons for the Panthers' rise from a one-win season in 1990-91 to a 19-8 record this season. Chambers led St. Frances in scoring (17.7) and rebounding (9.0). She is a threat inside or outside.
Lakeisha Dukes, Walbrook, senior, forward She is not a flashy player, but steady. Dukes was second on the team in scoring (17.1), and she also pulled down 9.0 rebounds per game. A quick player with good shooting range, Dukes likely will play for a junior college.
Western, senior, forward
In the latter part of the season, Evans emerged as one of the Doves' go-to players. She scored 13 of Western's last 27 points TTC in a 70-50 win over Laurel in the Class 4A Region II final. Evans is capable of scoring from outside, but is more known for her power moves.
Walbrook, soph., forward
Despite giving up a few inches in size, Greenwood held her own inside. She averaged 14.3 points and 11.3 rebounds. Greenwood played with poise and rose to the occasion in big games. She scored 16 points against Howard in the Class 3A Region III semifinals.
Lake Clifton, soph., guard
Gross was the Lakers' leader on the court. She was second on the team in scoring (15.0) and averaged a team-high 4.1 assists. She is the type of player who makes everyone around her better. Gross' main weapons are her quickness and court sense.
Western, soph., guard
One of the area's most exciting players, Smith was the Doves' second-leading scorer (14.9), and she ranked among the area leaders in assists (6.5). A good ballhandler and a strong defensive player, Smith was equally adept at shooting from outside or inside.
St. Frances, soph., forward
Another key player in the Panthers' turnaround, Webb took some of the scoring and rebounding load off Melba Chambers. She is an inside-outside threat who impressed Catholic League coaches with her hustle and all-around play. Webb was second on the Panthers in scoring (16.1) and rebounding (7.1).
Western, soph., guard/forward
After being selected to the All-Metro team as a freshman, Wright cemented her status as one of the area's top players this season. She led Western in scoring (18.0) and also averaged 7.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists. A fundamentally sound player and a team leader, Wright has some of the area's best one-on-one moves.