When asked before the season if her team could contend for another state championship, Old Mill girls basketball coach Pat Chance said, "I haven't even thought of the playoffs."
Instead, she said her primary goal was to see how much the Patriots could improve from now until the end of the season. And judging by last night's debut against Chesapeake-AA, she thinks they have a long way to go.
With five new starters taking the floor for the opening tap, the Patriots struggled to find their rhythm and led just 20-18 at halftime. Despite the difficulties, which included 24-for-79 shooting, they found a victory.
Nine different players scored for the 11th-ranked Patriots, led by junior Dana Dawson with 14 points, and their swarming, pressure defense forced 36 turnovers in a 53-35 victory over Chesapeake.
Senior Lanita Talley, a transfer from Illinois, added 12 points and seven rebounds off the bench for Old Mill, which will try to win a fourth-consecutive Class 4A state title despite losing six of its top seven players from last year, including two first-team All-Metro selections.
Senior Megan Van Wambeke scored 11 points for Chesapeake (1-1), which was coming off a 58-42 victory over Archbishop Spalding on Tuesday.
As the Patriots gathered in front of their bench after pre-game warm-ups, Chance said, "New people, new season, same result -- we hope."
But through one half, they made just nine of 33 shots and were out-rebounded 24-13. They trailed for most of the first quarter, and it took a baseline jumper by senior Michelle Salmon with one second remaining to give them the lead at halftime.
"I was concerned about playing this game after such a long layoff," Chance said. "Our last scrimmage was the 30th of November, so it's been a while since we've played a game. I figured we'd come out and be very ragged."
A horrendous third quarter doomed Chesapeake. The Cougars, who lost just one player from last season, went 2-for-14 and committed five turnovers. They didn't make their first basket until four minutes had elapsed, when senior Lori Wlodarczyk hit from the outside, and a two-point deficit graduately widened to 15 after three quarters.
"The second half, I've got to attribute to fatigue," said coach Dennis Thiele, who led the Cougars to the region playoffs last season for the first time since 1985. "We started throwing the ball around and not doing what we've been trained to do. Next time we play them it will be a little different."
Old Mill went ahead 44-27 in the fourth quarter when Dawson (eight rebounds) scored off a pass from Salmon. Van Wambeke converted a three-point play and junior Sandra Norris sank a free throw to bring Chesapeake closer, but the Patriots' Tinnell Slade made a steal and layup with 2:04 remaining, and the lead eventually grew to 20 points.
It wasn't always pretty, but Old Mill had passed its first test. But there are plenty of others forthcoming, such as today's game dTC against No. 1 Western -- a rematch of last year's state final -- and Tuesday's battle with No. 8 Annapolis.
"It's good for us to be challenged like this," said Salmon (six points), who became a starter toward the end of last season, but began last night's game on the bench. She didn't join the team until earlier this week while making the Olympic Development Program's under-20 national team in Boca Raton, Fla.
"The last couple of years, the games were won by 30, 40 points and they'd be over by halftime," she said. "This year it's going to be more exciting for us."