For 26 years as a boys basketball coach, Ed Trout did things one way - his way.
He was fair, but strict, a yeller and a screamer in the locker room after tough losses as a coach at Central in Prince George's County and as a junior varsity coach at Centennial.
So at the beginning of last season when he took over the Eagles' girls varsity program, he coached pretty much the way he always had.
"After our first big loss last year, I screamed at the girls for the first time, and they looked at me like 'Are you crazy?' " Trout recalls with a laugh. "I found out quickly that, emotionally, I was in for a big change."
A year and a half later, Trout certainly seems to have gotten the hang of it, and his players have certainly developed the feel for him. Despite losing its top scorers to graduation, Centennial has been the early surprise of the county season thus far, going 7-3 overall and 5-1 in county play.
The No. 9 Eagles recently defeated preseason favorites Mount Hebron and River Hill, both of whom were ranked in the top 5 at the time, and gave No. 6 Glenelg a tough game before falling, 60-50.
"I've been pleasantly surprised," Trout said. "We lost 40 percent of our scoring [to graduation] and had a pretty weak JV team a year ago. We just had to find a way to compete. We figured that we had to improve defensively and try to hold teams to under 40 points a game."
Impressively, Centennial has played its best when the stakes were at highest. In the fourth quarter this season, the Eagles are shooting over 80 percent from the foul line, which was a big key in the upset wins over the Vikings and Hawks.
"We seem to almost shoot better when we're tired," Trout said. "We try to spend a big chunk of practice conditioning and shooting free throws. In close games, it's really paid off. We lack depth and the girls know it, so they work extra hard to prepare."
Trout says the major reason for Centennial's success can be attributed to the play of his three senior captains, Jasmine Hammond, Lisa Richardson and Ashley Hall. In all his years of coaching, Trout had always asked his team to vote on which players should serve as captains, but he broke tradition this season and simply bestowed the honor on the trio.
"I told them, 'Hey, this team is yours,' " Trout said. "I gave them a lot of freedom to talk and give input on what's happening out there. That's been an important part of our success."
Never was it more important, perhaps, than when Hammond, the Eagles' point guard and best player, missed two games with an ankle injury early in the year. Hall stepped up as the vocal leader and outside shooter while Richardson pounded the glass for rebounds. Freshman Lindsey Molesky filled in for Hammond, while guard Allie Gugliotti and Claire Anderson also played key roles. Centennial played great team defense in the fourth quarter and earned wins over Long Reach and Hammond.
"There's no reason why we shouldn't contend for the title," said Hall, who had four three-pointers against River Hill.
NOTES: No. 18 Hammond, which upset No. 6 Glenelg last week, should face another tough test tomorrow on the road against No. 10 River Hill, despite the fact that the Hawks have lost three straight games. ... Mount Hebron heavyweight wrestler Justin Neal continued his impressive freshman season over the weekend, earning a 2-1 overtime victory over Glenelg's Rob LaHayne in a dual meet between the two schools. LaHayne, the County Offensive Player of the Year in football, finished third at the county meet last season. Neal, who improved his record to 13-2, is ranked No. 4 in The Sun's individual rankings. He finished second at the Magruder Tournament and the Arundel Tournament earlier this year. ... Hammond boys basketball player Josh Wheeler, who missed the Bears' last game (a 72-52 loss to Glenelg) while in North Carolina, returned to the team this week.