Flying across the lane, an outstretched Greichaly Cepero swats away a once wide-open shot and sprints upcourt. Outracing everyone to the other end with her long and graceful strides, the McDonogh senior center receives the ball back for an uncontested layup.
At 6 feet 3, Cepero combines size, speed and athletic instincts rarely seen in this area, making the game appear triflingly easy at times in her efforts for the top-ranked Eagles. Yet these same talents have made Cepero's life equally as difficult.
A native of Puerto Rico, Cepero has developed into a coveted basketball and volleyball player, paving the way for a lifelong dream to play collegiately in the United States, while forcing several sacrifices in the process.
To better prepare for college here, she decided to spend her senior year in the United States and enrolled at McDonogh five months ago.
"I knew it was going to be tough, but I'm OK," said Cepero, who recently made an oral commitment to Nebraska to play both sports. "To come here, my senior year of high school, a lot of my friends told me not to do it. They were like, 'Are you crazy?' But it's something I've always wanted to do."
While most high schools seniors only had to fret over SAT scores last fall, Cepero had to deal with life without her parents and friends, plus adjust to a new culture, a different language and college recruiting.
Whether it's going to the mall to buy a pair of gloves or taking a risk on eating something other than pasta, her daily life seems to be loaded with obstacles. And don't forget a more rigid academic system and the language problems.
However, the first step may have been the bravest. Cepero chose McDonogh despite the fact that she would have to board at a school at which she knew no one and live on weekends with the parents of teammate Vicki Brick, whom she had just met last summer as a member of a national all-star team.
Since her arrival, Cepero has gone alone on recruiting trips to Nebraska, Rice and UCLA, and has only returned to Puerto Rico for a five-day stay over Christmas break.
"It was hard to let her go; it's still hard," said her mother, Maria, who talks to her daughter mostly during the weekends and every other day during the week. "But we have always supported her 100 percent."
Said Victor Brick, Cepero's sponsor here: "She's very mature and very self-sufficient. She makes friends very easily. She blends in so much, you'd think she grew up here. I guess basketball is a universal language."
Cepero became the perfect fit for McDonogh, which currently has a 41-game winning streak, especially since the Eagles graduated their center and were leaning toward starting an underclassman.
So enter Cepero, one of the top 50 high school players in the nation, who is proving her all-around skills by averaging 11 points, eight rebounds, three assists and three steals per game. She has recorded a double double in five of 23 games.
When teams play more physical players against her, Cepero moves out to the high post, where she can sink a high-arcing shot or find a cutting teammate on a backdoor play. When opponents opt for quicker defenders, she positions herself down low for high-percentage chances inside the lane.
If anyone questions how much Cepero has blended in, a look at last Saturday's game against Bullis should be an adequate answer. Trailing 26-23, the Eagles fed the ball inside to Cepero, who converted two three-point plays. She finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds.
"Greicha adds another dimension to our game," said Brick, an Eagles guard who was The Sun's All-Metro Player of the Year last season.
"She gives us a definite inside presence with her height and is also very versatile. She's one of the best passing big men I've seen around. She takes our game to another level."
Defensively, Cepero plays the safety valve, allowing the other four McDonogh players to press full-court while knowing Cepero's intimidating shot-blocking skills are backing them up.
And when teams attempt to press McDonogh, the Eagles sometimes get bailed out by Cepero, who is more than willing to showcase her ball-handling skills.
The only problem that sometimes occurs involves lapses of communication on the court. It's not because of Cepero's quiet personality, but a result of trying to translate basketball lingo in her head.
However, "She makes a tremendous difference," said Roland Park coach Scott Buckley, who watched Cepero record eight points, five rebounds and seven blocks against the Reds a month ago.
"Not only is she more mature than their other options, but she's played at the highest level. And let's not forget to mention that she's one of the best players in the country. She does things in games that you just don't normally see around here."
But many consider Cepero an even more devastating player in volleyball and perhaps the best ever to play in this area. This year's All-Metro Player of the Year as well as Gatorade's Maryland Player of the Year, she dictated matches with her setting ability.
With a near-perfect touch on the ball, she set 635 times and had 357 assists. Plus, she could finish at the net when called upon, registering 41 kills and 26 solo blocks.
"She made everyone better," McDonogh volleyball coach Ginger Gelston said. "Her skills are by far the highest level and she raised the level of everyone on the team."
These numbers become more amplified by the fact that Cepero didn't show up at McDonogh until the day before school started. After being admitted over the summer, she originally began the school year at a public school in Tampa, Fla., before reconsidering her decision.
Of course, she made the quick transition look easy.
"I was afraid at the beginning because I had some friends in Tampa, but I didn't really know anyone here," Cepero said. "But this has been such a great experience. I'm having so much fun right now."
Pub Date: 2/06/99