WINNING ANYTHING with "national" in its name produces a certain giddiness that's understandable.
For example, just call Rick Wagener's house in Clarksville when no one's home. You'll get an answering machine tape that mentions, among other things, an affiliation with a certain national champion girls' basketball team.
Wagener is co-coach of the under-11 Maryland Sure Shots team, which this month went on a nine-game roll near Disney World in Orlando, Fla., and brought home a very nice trophy awarded the Division II, under-11 champions in Amateur Athletic Union competition.
The Sure Shots, a club with several age-group travel teams, is has its headquarters in Catonsville and is building a gym in Lansdowne. But this under-11 girls team has a stronger Howard County flavor than anything else.
Wagener, who spent time in the early 1970s as a left-handed pitcher in the New York Mets farm system only to see his shot at the "bigs" evaporate because of a rotator cuff injury, and good friend John Pomeroy, a Catonsville resident who grew up in Dayton, have coached girls basketball together for 14 (says John) or "more like 12" (says Rick) years.
They did their first coaching when their daughters were at Trinity Prep in Ilchester, and although those girls are now too old for the Sure Shots, the pair continues coaching.
This under-11 team of 13 girls has six from Howard County: Molly Speicher, Michelle Lewis, Brianne Harmon, Ali Konstantas and Kara Kelehan, all from Ellicott City, and Alex Dreisch, who lives in Glenelg.
At least two have ties with a travel team backed by the Howard County Youth Program. Six also have ties to St. Mark's Catholic School in Catonsville, which has a gym well-known in youth basketball circles there and throughout Howard County.
Other players are Shelby Polk, Katelyn Fischer, Carly Read, Jessica Diegel, Ashley Davis, Anna Roth and Amy Stryjewski, all from Baltimore or Anne Arundel counties.
The "Division II" national title in AAU parlance means the Sure Shots finished either third or fourth in their state championships this season (actually, it was fourth, but with an asterisk).
The asterisk regarding the Maryland championship for the age group carries this explanation: Pomeroy and Wagener said their team lost twice in the last two rounds of state play to teams it had beaten during regular-season and earlier tournament play.
Otherwise, the girls would have been competing for the Division I AAU title.
To earn national acclaim at Disney's Wide World of Sports, the Sure Shots defeated six rivals from a couple of North Carolina towns, Alabama and Georgia in double-elimination bracket play after sweeping three opening-round games.
Curiously, neither coach could recall the Sure Shots' precise record, but counting league competition, six tournaments and nationals, it is something like 35-7, give or take.
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