The Chesapeake Bay Hurricanes traveled more than 1,100 miles looking for a national girls basketball title, but they had to look less than 100 miles from home to find the team that would spoil that dream.
The Virginia Vogues ended the Hurricanes' title hopes with a 51-38 win at the 12-and-under Amateur Athletic Union national tournament last week at the Pontchartrain Center near New Orleans. While the Vogues went on to win the title, the Hurricanes finished ninth.
"We were disappointed just because we were fourth last year, but we weren't real down, because we still did pretty good," said Crystal Driessen, who represented Howard County on the team along with LaToya Hines, Terri Daniels and Thandi Howell.
The Hurricanes cruised through their first five games, winning by an average of 24 points over teams from Oregon, Texas, the Missouri Valley and two from Connecticut. After losing to the Vogues, they fell to the Illinois Hustle, 58-52, to end up ninth in the double-elimination tournament.
"That's still an excellent finish," said coach Chet Lipton. "I'm real happy with ninth place. You always want to win, but any time you come in the top 10 in the country -- I'll take that every year. Only three or four other teams have finished in the top 10 for two years."
The Vogues' power came as no surprise to the Hurricanes. The two teams met last month at a West Virginia tournament. The Vogues won that one too, 74-71, although the Hurricanes battled back from a 15-point deficit.
At the time, Lipton predicted that the Vogues might be the top 12-and-under team in the country. But he also thought the Hurricanes had learned enough from that game to reverse the outcome at nationals.
Instead, the Hurricanes played their one bad game against the Vogues.
"It was one of those games from start to finish, one of those games where you just have to shake your head," said Lipton. "I told the girls they had to forget about it. It was just a stinker, and you're going to play one of those every once in awhile."
The Hurricanes played well defensively, but they hit stretches where they couldn't convert anything with their transition game. In the first half, they shot 2-for-34 from the floor, and only four of those were outside shots.
"I don't know what it was," said Hines, the Hurricanes' top inside threat. "They just weren't falling for me or anybody else. I looked at the clock and it said two minutes left and I couldn't believe it."
Hines, an All-American at last year's tournament and a tremendous jumper, shouldered much of the responsibility on the inside against a parade of 6-footers despite being 5 feet 7. She delivered 12 points and 15 rebounds a game to lead the Hurricanes.
"After a tournament like that, I'm almost apologetic to LaToya, because I expect so much from her," said Lipton, who said his was probably the smallest team in the tournament. "But we would not have finished ninth if she hadn't played as well as she did. She's matched up against 6-footers regularly, and she does a great job against them."
For next year's team, Lipton hopes to add a little more height to help Hines on the boards. As the girls move up in age bracket, the opposition gets taller. The Oregon team they faced had three 6-1 girls, while the Hurricanes' tallest player was Daniels at 5-9, who played on the wing.