Shortly after the No. 12 Atholton girls basketball team came from behind to defeat Mount Hebron last Wednesday, junior point guard Julie Taylor showed the same competitive glare she had maintained throughout the 32 minutes of play.
Of all the attributes she has brought to the young Raiders in this her third season of varsity - scoring, finding teammates, controlling both ends of the floor and more - it clearly starts with her overwhelming desire to succeed. The proof was in her face, which was still slightly red, both from the hard work she put in and the excitement that came after the positive result.
"I'm just a competitive person - I want to win more than anything. And we weren't going to lose this game," said the 5-foot-6 Taylor, who scored 12 points in the Raiders' 54-49 win.
Taylor has been a successful work in progress since she first started on varsity as a freshman, when she was the shooting guard on a senior-oriented team. With time and experience, she has emerged into the lead role of a talented cast that has one senior starter and a handful of sophomores. The Raiders entered the week with a 14-4 mark on the season and have their sights on qualifying for the county championship game.
"Coming to the team as a freshman, everyone really made it easy for me to fit in. Everyone was setting me up and I just sat back and shot," she said. "But now, I have to take more control, do other things, set others up and myself, and I'm feeling really comfortable at this point."
Watching Taylor grow to that point has been rewarding for coach Maureen Shacreaw, who has learned how to push the right buttons to get the most from the standout.
"We've had our battles and our share of heart-to-heart talks," Shacreaw said. "She came in here as a ninth-grader and made a difference, turned heads on a team full of seniors. But they carried her as a freshman. Then, last year, we had [two-time All-County player] Allie Scott, who had the same temperament and drive, so they pushed each other."
"This year, I said 'Julie, you've got to do it, everyone is looking at you to do it and you can't wait for somebody else.' She has so much experience now and I think she's realizing what she can do."
Taylor plays midfield on the lacrosse team and played one season of varsity soccer as a freshman, but basketball has been at the forefront since she started playing in the driveway with her older brother, Mike, while growing up. Much of her spare time is spent with a basketball in hand, working on shooting or other facets of the game. She also has learned that taking control means staying in control.
"I'm definitely keeping my composure better this season in terms of the mental part of the game," she said. "If you're having a bad game or whatever, you can't really show the frustration because everyone is sort of looking at you. I've learned to keep my head up and in the game and work through things when you're not playing well."
The layers that Taylor has added to her game with each season have helped. If she's not shooting well, there's plenty of other ways for her to contribute. She's quick on defense and to the basket on offense, and smart in finding open teammates. The Raiders have six players who average seven or more points, with Taylor topping the list at 13 per game to go with five assists.
"She's definitely a leader and pushes us to be the best we can be. That's probably how we've gotten this far and won so many games," said sophomore guard Elie Snyder, who averages 12 points a game.
After opening the season with a 1-2 mark in the county - losing to defending champion River Hill, 64-36, and Mount Hebron, 55-32 - the Raiders have won 12 of 14, with Taylor reaching double figures in 13 straight games, including a season-high 21 points twice.
"We're a really close-knit team, which helps because we've been able to gel so well, and there's so many positives on the court," Taylor said. "Every game we learn something and we get better. It's been great."
The Raiders' most recent loss - a 62-57 setback to undefeated River Hill on Jan. 20 - showed they could play with any team. River Hill coach Teresa Waters, who watched Taylor play at a summer camp just before she entered high school, saw then the kind of player Taylor could become.
"Julie is the player that makes that team go," she said. "She does a little of everything. She's a good floor leader, has an inside-outside game and makes things happen."