When Tom Conroy and Joe Gillespie decided to revamp their Severna Park Green Hornets girls recreation basketball program, turning it into the Maryland Waves AAU program back in 1987, it was a risky proposition.
Only two other teams had participated with the Green Hornets in the first state 14-under AAU tournament. Maryland's reputation as a haven for girls basketball talent was pretty much nonexistent.
That has changed. The quality of talent in the state has rapidly improved and college recruiters have taken notice. One of the reasons has been the growth and success of the Maryland Waves program.
"We didn't think that this would take off," said Conroy, the co-founder and former president of the Waves organization. "There were simply a lot of organizations that were larger and more established than us."
The Waves have age groups ranging from 11-under to 18-under, and have placed 13 teams in the national tournament since 1987, including the 14-under, 15-under and 18-under squads this summer.
The 18-under squad, featuring Chanel Wright (Western High), Kacy Williams (Hammond High, Georgetown), Kelly Gibson and Sonia Chase (McDonogh School, Maryland), Sonia Keiner (Hammond High, Towson State), Tamika Harrison and Tiki Nicholson (Hammond High) and Megan Van Wambeke (Chesapeake-AA High, Colgate), lost to North Carolina two weekends ago in the championship.
Rachel Cimmier (Mount Hebron High, Maryland) and Natisha Ferguson (Lake Clifton High) also were on the team, but they didn't make the trip to the nationals. The 14-under squad is playing this weekend in Cocoa Beach, Fla., and the 15-under team is in Shreveport, La.
More than 30 players who have played with the Waves have received either athletic or academic college scholarships. The most notable are Dana Johnson (Western High-Tennessee); Laura Coakley (St. Mary's-Wake Forest), Missy Quille (Annapolis-UMBC), and Sherri Orlosky (Atholton-Notre Dame).
"It was really a great opportunity to play against the best competition," said Orlosky, who was an assistant on the Waves' 18-under team this summer. "It's a great team to play for and they gave me an opportunity to come back to help and give the girls advice."
Conroy said attracting players from outside the Waves' home base of Anne Arundel County has been vital to the program.
Marketing has been another key. More than 60 college coaches regularly receive information on the program. At each out-of-state tournament in which the Waves participate, fliers and information packets are presented to coaches. If there's a college along the route to a tournament, the coaches take the team to the school for a visit and drop off information.
"It draws attention of the coaches and scouts," said Tom Williams, whose daughter Kacy has played for the Waves the last three years. "It's a well-organized and classy program. It has done a lot for Maryland girls basketball."
"AAU girls basketball is pretty big time," Conroy said. "The girls AAU program in the state is larger than the boys."
With the increasing popularity of women's college basketball, recreation and AAU programs will be playing a key role for recruiters. Scholarship opportunities should increase.
"It's going to be more competitive from a recruiting standpoint, just like the men," Conroy said. "With Title IX, women will have equal opportunity and take advantage of it."