Western hoping to get it right this time around


Old Mill 59, Western 35.

It's a score Western coach Breezy Bishop is not likely to forget.

With a chance to win the Class 4A state championship in their first year of eligibility last season, the Doves were humbled by the Patriots, who claimed their third consecutive title.

It was the second straight year that Western had ended its season with a disappointing loss. The Doves were upset by Walbrook in the City-Wide championship game two years ago.

Is Bishop using the memory of those losses as incentive for this season? You bet.

The Doves' talent is undeniable -- junior guards Chanel Wright and Kimberly Smith are two of the metro area's best players -- but Bishop is questioning her team's character.

"The question marks are: can the team improve in the area's of mental toughness, discipline, leadership and listening skills?" said Bishop, who has a 331-29 career record at Western.

Western will be tough to beat, but how far it goes in postseason will depend on how Bishop's question marks are addressed.

And although Bishop hates for her team to be cast in the role of favorite, the Doves' talent dictates that they must be considered the team to beat in the area.

Bishop will be able to gauge just how good her team is when it meets No. 2 Hammond as part of the Fuel Fund Invitational on Jan. 17.

Top-ranked Western's strongest challenge in the City-Wide 4A Division probably will come from Lake Clifton, which gave the Doves their two toughest regular-season games last season. Walbrook, Western's longtime rival, also moves into the 4A Division.

Poly is the prohibitive favorite in the City-Wide 2A-3A Division.

The Catholic League figures to be a two-team battle between defending champion St. Mary's and surging St. Frances.

It was a breakthrough season for St. Frances last year. Panthers coach Jerome Shelton made St. Frances a top-15 team in just its third varsity season.

Some Catholic League coaches are touting the fourth-ranked Panthers as the favorite. As Old Mill proved to Western last season, however, games are not won on paper. No. 5 St. Mary's will not relinquish its two-year hold on the Catholic League title easily.

No. 14 Institute of Notre Dame and No. 15 Mercy figure to be the next-best teams in the Catholic League. Seton Keough, which already has pulled off the season's first upset -- a 41-35 victory over No. 20 McDonogh on Thursday -- and Mount de Sales could be teams to watch. Despite its season-opening loss, McDonogh is the favorite in the Association of Independent Schools A Division. The Eagles are led by senior Sonia Chase, who has signed early with Maryland.

In Baltimore County, defending county Randallstown looks strong again.

The ninth-ranked Rams (22-1 last season) feature seven players over 5 feet 10, led by All-Metro forward Nyota Mitchell, who averaged over 26 points per game. But while last year's philosophy was simply to get the ball to Mitchell, opponents this year might be in for a surprise. A group of talented freshmen and JV call-ups should take a lot of the burden off Mitchell.

Among the county's 1A-2A ranks, No. 13 Towson and No. 18 Loch Raven look like the teams to beat.

Towson returns 5-8 guard Sarah Weaver (14.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg) and 5-11 junior Kary Koch (9.1, 8). The Generals have height and quickness. Loch Raven -- which lost to Towson in last year's regional semifinals -- lost three starters, but features a talented group including 12 players from fall county championship teams.

In Harford County, No. 17 Fallston returns four junior starters who have gone to the state Class 1A final and semifinals the last two years. The fifth spot is there for whomever wants it, but it may take awhile for her to blend with the experienced players.

Still, coach Nancy Ferguson's Cougars are favored to collect another county title, although stepping up to Class 2A might make postseason play more of a struggle.

There are no returning starters at C. Milton Wright (16-5), last year's Harford County runner-up, which could make for a closer scramble for second among the Mustangs, North Harford, Edgewood and Joppatowne.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad