Fitting in has never been a big problem for Meade standout forward Nicole Dailey, although she has had some tests.
One of them came in the seventh grade, when she played on a boys recreation team.
"I never got the ball," said the 6-foot-1 Dailey, laughing. "So I just got every rebound and made sure every shot that came off the glass, I put back in."
And why didn't they give you the ball in the first place?
"Because I was the only girl on the team," she says with another big smile.
Back then was Meade coach Phil Popielski's first look at Dailey. He was immediately impressed: "I thought she could help us at varsity right then," he said.
Popielski had to wait a couple of years, but the wait has certainly been worthwhile. With smooth moves down low, the ability to run the floor like a guard, and an expanding shooting range, Dailey, a sophomore, does plenty more than just rebound for the Mustangs these days.
Last season provided an even bigger challenge for Dailey. The Mustangs were coming off their most successful season -- 22-4 and a county championship -- with an abundance of talent back, and there was Dailey, a freshman among upperclassmen, looking to earn playing time.
"I was real nervous, but I fit in, because everyone welcomed me with open arms. I was learning, and everyone was helping me," she said. "I just go out there and give it my all. That's all you can do."
The Mustangs' 6-3 senior center, Katie Netherton, said it worked both ways last season and continues to this year.
"I tried to help her out by just being there as far as leadership and having someone to play against every day in practice [who] was taller than her," said Netherton. "But her being there helped me out a lot, too. She's a great all-around player."
The county was stocked with talented frontcourt players last season. Dailey, eased into the starting lineup the first game after Christmas, showed she was up to the competition. She finished the season averaging 12 points and eight rebounds, roughly the same numbers she's posting this season.
"It was impressive that she was able to come in and be a force as soon as she did," said Popielski. "With all those great players, to be able to play in those games and be successful as a freshman is saying something."
Battle-tested, Dailey said she is much more comfortable this season, having a better feel for the plays, knowing where her teammates are going to be and getting the chance to help the new players. She even has interviews down pat.
The Mustangs get a visit from No. 11-ranked Arundel at 7 tonight with county championship hopes at stake. Last season, Meade defeated Arundel during the regular season, but the Wildcats won the county championship game and again for the right to go to the state tournament.
Dailey, who already has drawn attention from Iowa, Florida and other colleges while aspiring to play at North Carolina, remembers well.
"This is the game we've been waiting for since last season," she said. "We've been rivals for so long. They have no respect for us, so we have to go out and earn it. And this time, we finally get to play them in our own gym."
Arundel, state runner-up last season, receives fine guard play from Meagan Rollins and Jill Marano to go with inside games from Edmonds and Fauntleroy. Meade counters with Angie Creek, Brandi Fowler and LaTanya Eldridge from the outside and with Merideth Poehlman and Julie Armitage joining Netherton and Dailey down low.
"We have to play like a team -- get good ball movement, stay focused and play good defense," said Dailey.
Spoken like a true veteran.
Pub Date: 1/22/99