If anyone can appreciate the significance of Winters Mill's perfect girls basketball season, it's Mount Hebron coach Scott Robinson. In the past week, his No. 4 Vikings have survived upset bids by Howard County rival River Hill and high-scoring Gwynn Park of Prince George's County -- by a combined six points -- to remain unbeaten.
"I know how difficult it is to go undefeated," Robinson said, "and that's why I have so much respect for them."
Tonight at 9, the perfection will end for one of the metro area's last two remaining unbeaten teams, when Mount Hebron (26-0) meets No. 6 Winters Mill (25-0) in the Class 2A state semifinals at UMBC.
Though the teams are built similarly, both relying on the play of their undersized, athletic guards, the game is expected to be somewhat of a contrast in styles.
The Vikings have stressed ball control and solid half-court defense in averaging 44 points per game in their past three playoff wins. The Falcons like to take chances on defense, preferring a faster pace.
"We'll try to put our athletes on the floor and makes things happen," Winters Mill coach Bernie Koontz said, adding that the teams' rosters seem tomirror each other. "They're very similar to us. They've got basketball players, lacrosse players, hockey players -- kids that are from different disciplines that have pulled together."
For instance, Mount Hebron's only returning starter from last season, Deanna Dydynski, leads the Vikings in scoring at 12.2 points per game. In the fall, however, she was an All-County field hockey player.
Winters Mill guard Cassie Cooke, who narrowly missed a triple double with 26 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists in her team's regional final win over Middletown, was Carroll County's Player of the Year in soccer last fall.
Both teams also have multiple options on offense, making them particularly difficult to defend. Cooke and fellow guards Jen Peters and Jordan Neville each average close to 13 points per game for the Falcons.
"That's what makes them difficult," Robinson said. "That's why they're 25-0 -- they've got really good balance."
Neville, the only returning player from Winters Mill's state semifinal appearance in 2005, said that despite the record, her team has something to prove.
"Everyone is looking at this like, 'Oh, they're the Carroll County team that doesn't play anyone worth playing, and that's the only reason they're undefeated,' " Neville said. "But I think we're ready to come out there and make a name for ourselves. We want to show everyone that it's not just because we're from Carroll County."
The senior will be the lone player on the court with experience in the state semifinals -- something she hopes to use to the Falcons' advantage.
"I don't know if it was because I was a freshman, but I remember coming out and thinking I was going to [be sick] right on the floor," Neville said. "I learned how exciting it is to play on a college floor and to have fans screaming for you. It was a very eye-opening experience."
After a one-point loss to Potomac of Prince George's County in the semifinal, she also learned not to take the state tournament experience for granted. It's a lesson that Mount Hebron knows all too well.
Mount Hebron, a former perennial state title contender, winning five state titles in six years during the late 1980s and early '90s, the Vikings return to the state semifinals for the first time since 1995.
"I think anytime you're in a state championship atmosphere," Robinson said, "you just enjoy the ride."