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North Carroll overcomes challenges, makes transition to veteran team Despite new coach and late preseason, Panthers start to jell; Girls basketball


Six games into the season, North Carroll has shown it can handle a variety of situations, some good, some not-so-good.

Come from behind, win close ones, extend a lead, lose, and bounce back from a loss -- the Panthers (4-2) have done it all. Next up will be the toughest test to date, Tuesday's game at No. 12 Glenelg, which has a 62-42 victory over South Carroll in its 4-0 record.

New coach Sarah Palmer and her players also had to contend with a fractured preseason routine. Aside from the usual sharing of gym time, many of Palmer's players turned to basketball late because they were involved in postseason play for fall sports.

Additionally, Palmer, a teacher at North Carroll Middle School, was an assistant coach for the girls soccer team that reached the state Class 3A championship game. It wasn't until several days before the basketball season opener that she had a full squad for practices.

Although the coach is new, a half-dozen players were on the varsity last season. Now, they are adjusting to a new philosophy and different styles of play.

"There is a lot of raw talent that we have to put together," junior Heather Easter said, "and when we run the offense, we can tell whether or not we're together."

So far, things have worked on some nights; they haven't worked on others.

"Our opener against Francis Scott Key was a big one for me and for the team," Palmer said. "We were all so nervous, but [we] settled down, and the players proved they could compete. Even though they struggled, they showed they could set goals and accomplish them."

North Carroll lost a five-point lead in the fourth quarter, then broke away from a tie with three minutes left and won, 50-45.

Since then, the Panthers have lost to Fallston by nine; beaten North Harford by three; beaten Thomas Johnson by 16; and lost to Walkersville by nine. Friday night, they improved their record to 4-2 with a 47-34 win at Hereford.

The most impressive player thus far has been junior Candi Jeffery. The 5-foot-8 front-liner has produced five of the top six scoring efforts among county players, including three games in the 20s. She averages 18 points and 13 rebounds per game.

"I love the physical play," she said, "and I believe I can get open to score. However, if they double-team me, there's somebody open, and I can get them the ball. On defense, it's positioning, and we're all learning to help each other."

Jeffery and Easter played on the same teams in their recreation league days and are in their second varsity seasons.

"We know what each other can do, and that helps," Jeffery said.

After six games, Jeffery is among the county leaders in points, rebounds and free-throw percentage (75 percent). All are dramatic improvements over a year ago, when she averaged eight points, seven rebounds and shot about 40 percent from the free-throw line.

"I've usually been a pretty good foul shooter," she said. "My older sister, Michele, who played here, has worked with me."

Easter, a 5-10 guard, is playing on a wing this season after having been inside last season to take advantage of her height.

"It doesn't matter to me whether I play with my back to the basket or facing it. I'm comfortable both ways," she said. She is averaging six points, a figure that should improve, she said, because "coach wants me to shoot more."

Jeffery and Easter are multi-sport athletes. Jeffery also plays softball; Easter, soccer and tennis.

Jeffery played JV softball last spring, then was added to the varsity squad late in the season.

A fearless athlete, Easter's hard, aggressive play in basketball -- which she calls her favorite sport -- has carried over to her other sports. Her background has been particularly strong in tennis, where she and partner Brooke Foster have won the county doubles title the past two seasons and followed each with thirds in regional play. The two are 39-4 for two seasons.

Basketball, though, "is the sport I want to play," Easter said. "I'd like to play in college, but right now I'm simply working hard on developing as a better player."

Palmer sees her team as one that works well together, with reserves filling the gaps, and the whole process starting to jell.

"You have to be impressed by them," the coach said. "Even though there are a lot of natural leaders, they know their roles, have heart, and don't quit."

Pub Date: 12/20/98

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