Mount Hebron's Kathy Doyle has looked forward to this day for four years.
After three seasons that ended in disappointment, Doyle and the Vikings finally get a shot at a state girls basketball championship. They face 1993 champ Bladensburg in a Class 3A semifinal tonight at 7 at UMBC.
Had No. 10-ranked Mount Hebron not reached the final four, Doyle would have been the first Vikings' four-year player in 10 years to miss out on the state playoffs. In 1991, the year before Doyle arrived, the Vikings won a record-tying sixth state title.
The Vikings have been one of the most dominant teams in the 23 years of the girls state basketball tournament, but the last three seasons ended in regional upsets to Hammond twice and then Howard. To make matters worse, the victors twice went on to win state titles -- Hammond in 1992 and Howard last year.
"We had to forget about last year and the two years before," said Doyle, "forget about beating them twice [in the regular season] and losing in the regionals. We had to move on and just go out and play hard. New team. New coach. New season."
New regional title. The Vikings buried all the ghosts of the last three years by dethroning Howard, 59-47, Saturday in the regional final.
Now for their season to continue beyond today, coach Pat Becker's third-seeded Vikings (18-7) will have to be in top form against second-seeded Bladensburg (21-3) from Prince George's County.
The two have played one common opponent, Laurel, and the results don't come out in Mount Hebron's favor. Laurel clobbered the Vikings, 71-44, in December, but Bladensburg beat Laurel twice by the same score, 78-74.
While the Vikings, averaging 54 points, have two players scoring in double figures -- point guard Alisha Mosley (18.4) and swing player Doyle (15.6) -- the Mustangs boast four.
"We use a balanced attack," said Bladensburg coach Lester L. Butler, whose team averages 65 points. "We have four girls who could score 20. It depends on how we're playing and how they try to play us. We're big and, of course, if we get the opportunity to take advantage of it we will, but Mount Hebron will be prepared and I've seen some smaller teams that win."
The battle of point guards should be a good one. Mosley, a 5-6 junior who set four school records, including most steals in a game (14), will face another all-around threat in 5-4 Aileene Frazer, who averages 15 points and is the only starter left from the 1993 state title team.
The other guard matchup could be a standoff, too, between the Vikings 5-4 Sarah Eberhart (eight points, four assists) and the Mustangs' 5-6 Denise Miller (11 points, two assists).
But the inside matchups could prove difficult for the Vikings against 6-0 Fatima Bah, 6-1 Yvette Tabron and 5-8 Tricy Johnson, who combined for 29 points and 24 rebounds a game.
The Vikings will give away four inches at two of those positions.
"We've played much taller teams before," said 5-9 forward Erin McGinnis, the Vikings' tallest starter. "In general all teams are taller than we are, so we're not too worried about it."
McGinnis, 5-8 Jenny Joyce and 5-8 Doyle average 26 points and 21 rebounds among them, but most of Doyle's come from shooting outside or driving the lane.
Mosley relies a lot on penetration, and she said that could be a problem against Bladensburg.
"I think they're a lot quicker than us," said Mosley. "We have to work on our outside shots. I don't think we'll get too many drives on them. We don't want to run with them. If we get in an up-tempo game, they might run away from us, but if we can slow it down and not tire ourselves out too much, I think we'll do OK."
If the Vikings beat Bladensburg tonight, they will advance to the title game Saturday at 8 p.m. against the winner of tonight's semifinal between top-seeded Walt Whitman (21-3) and C. Milton Wright (17-8).