Transition game: moving up to varsity

Tyra Breaux, New Town girls basketball coach Pam Wright wanted her Titans to get an early look at how tough the competition can be as they move up to the varsity level for the first time.

After the Owings Mills school opened its doors last fall, the Titans went 15-1 in their first season together as a junior varsity program. Wright decided the Titans needed an early introduction to high-caliber varsity competition, so she invited Milford Mill, a team second only to Baltimore County champ Woodlawn last season, over for a scrimmage last Friday.


"[The Titans] think they're good, so I want them to see what good is. Then we're going to see if we're good," said Wright, who came to New Town this fall after 11 seasons at Milford Mill that included five county titles and six trips to the state final.

After five quarters of scrimmaging, Wright and her players were pleasantly surprised with the results. The Titans stuck right with the Millers.


"After today, I think we're ready for varsity," said Titans sophomore point guard Tyra Breaux. "I didn't think we were going to be up with Milford Mill yet. I thought they'd give us some trouble, but since we played with them, I think I'm ready for every team now."

Milford Mill coach DeToiya McAililey was not surprised.

"They're good. They've been playing together a while in AAU. They're not a rookie team at all. They're a very experienced team," said McAililey, who was missing veteran forward Chelsea Jeter for the scrimmage.

While the Titans certainly have plenty of room for optimism, Wright is trying to remain cautious, because the leap to varsity is still a big one.

"The biggest difference is experience, because we're young," said Wright, who has only sophomores and freshmen. "I have some good talent, but I have to start from scratch.

"I plan a nice practice, but we don't get through half of it, because I have to spend time teaching it, because they haven't had it. I've got to be patient and take my time."

Southside coach Dafne Lee-Blakney knows exactly what Wright means. Lee-Blakney guided the Jaguars through the move to varsity three years ago after they had won the Baltimore City JV crown.

"You can't assume the kids know things," said Lee-Blakney. "You've got to cover all the bases and make sure you thoroughly review. Before you know it, practice is done and you have to evaluate so the next practice you can get what you missed."


Karen Wolfe found another practice problem as she tried to prepare her Reservoir team for the transition to the quicker pace of the varsity game last winter.

"For us, there was no way to prepare for how fast we had to practice to be ready for the speed of the game," said Wolfe.

"We could do fine against each other in practice, but we were playing against JV competition trying to prepare to be varsity players. We could not put a press on fast enough that it would give us the same degree of pressure our ball handlers would face in a game."

There can also be a physical difference when freshmen and sophomores face juniors and seniors.

"We're going to be playing older girls, much stronger, faster girls and we have to step up our game to compete with them," said Breaux.

For Century coach Joel Beard, that was a major adjustment for his players when they came off a 15-1 junior varsity season and went 11-11 in their first varsity season two years ago.


"The biggest adjustment for us size-wise was that we were not really big," said Beard, whose schedule included some tough Frederick County teams. "It was tough for us physically. Those people were one or two years older and they had played in a pretty good conference."

For any team, there are adjustments in moving to the varsity level. Wolfe, in Howard County, and Beard, in Carroll County, also did not have athletes who made basketball their primary sport. Lee-Blakney had that luxury, as does Wright, and winning can come quicker.

Southside made it to the state Class 1A final last season -- in just its third varsity season.

But that doesn't mean teams cannot win titles in their inaugural varsity season. Two years ago, Century's girls soccer team won a state title in its varsity debut. Tuscarora, Frederick County's newest school, did the same thing two weeks ago.

"Our girls had high expectations coming off that undefeated [JV] championship season," said Lee-Blakney. "A lot of them played summer ball with girls they were going to compete against and they thought they had a legitimate chance to contend [for a city title], not necessarily to win but to contend.

"The biggest thing was that we were inconsistent. Some days you would see that team capable of winning a title. Other days, you're thinking, 'Yup, we're a JV team.' "


While Wright is aware of the uphill battle often facing a young team, she wants the Titans to aim high and they are.

"We want to win the state championship," said forward Maketa Ruffin. "For me last year, it was a real heartbreaker not to go to the championship for JV."

"We kind of set the bar high," said forward Lindsey Wallace. "Everybody's expectations are very high because of that."