North Florida is hoping to make another run in the NCAA Division II basketball tournament and again will rely heavily on senior Natalie Hicks from Severna Park High.
"When Natalie plays well, we do well," said North Florida coach Mary Tappmeyer, whose team is 17-2. "She's our unsung hero and defensive stopper. She is one of the most intelligent players I've ever coached."
Hicks, a 5-foot-9 small forward, plays a suffocating style of defense that was so strong last March she was named to the All-South Atlantic Region tournament team, even though she averaged only 10.7 points and three rebounds in three games.
The Lady Ospreys rode Hicks' regional performance to an Elite Eight NCAA Division II berth.
Now she is being asked to take on more leadership responsibilities for the rest of the season because of the loss of starting point guard Kayla Sheldon to a knee injury.
"The main difference for me now is I listen more closely now to any changes in strategy for the backcourt," said Hicks, who is averaging 6.7 points and 2.7 rebounds. "I know the coach wants me to be more vocal in my leadership and I don't mind that."
However, Hicks won't change her emphasis on defense and winning.
"I could score 30 points and, if we lose, what good is that?" she said.
Hicks has never averaged more than 9.1 points (sophomore season) but she is headed for a third straight 20-win season and a fourth consecutive winning season.
Ford, Thomas strong
Freshmen Essien Ford (Loyola) and Malcolm Thomas (Pikesville) have been a solid combination for Widener University basketball coach David Duda to bring off the bench.
Ford, 6-3, plays either guard position and shoots three-points at a 48.2 percent clip. Ford averages 9.8 points and 17.7 minutes, hits 78.6 percent from the free-throw line and grabs 2.4 rebounds a game.
Thomas, a 6-4 forward, provides offense, rebounding and strong defense along with a bit of shot-blocking intimidation. His averages: 9.7 points, 19.9 minutes, 3.4 rebounds and 51.8 percent field-goal shooting.
A third Baltimore-area freshman player on Widener (11-6 overall, 5-3 Commonwealth Conference) is 6-1 guard David Douglas (Spalding). He has three points and three assists in four games.
Middlebury College freshman swimmer Robert Collier (Catonsville) has played a major role in the Panthers' 5-2 dual-meet start this season, winning eight individual events in the past five meets.
Sophomore guard Patrice Johnson (McDonogh) is Dickinson College's third-leading scorer at 9.5 points. She also averages 4.8 rebounds and 1.5 assists for the Red Devils (9-6 overall, 6-4 Centennial). Her freshman teammate, Thera Wolven (Mount Hebron), averages 8.4 minutes and 1.4 points.
Lindsey Redlin (Annapolis) played in eight games as a junior back this past season for the College of Wooster field hockey team, which posted a 15-6 record and finished as runner-up in the North Coast Athletic Conference tournament.
Freshman wide receiver Will Staples (Atholton) caught three passes for 60 yards in four games last season for the Delaware Valley College football team. The Aggies set a school with a 9-2 record and captured the Eastern College Athletic Conference Southeast championship.
Junior cross country runner Chris Seiler (North Harford) finished 35th this season for Susquehanna University at the Juniata Invitational and 89th at the Middle Atlantic Conference championships.
Sophomore Meredith Carr (South Carroll) helped the Susquehanna tennis team post a 6-3 record last fall by finishing 1-1 in doubles play.
Middlebury senior Liza Franyo is 3-1 in women's squash so far this season.
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