Throughout her time coaching at Long Reach, Kelli Cofield has stated many times that her leadership role has never gotten in the way of her being a fan of the game.
She likes to think she’s had a front row seat to watch some of the best high school girls basketball in the state over the last decade. And, when it comes to individual players, she quickly acknowledges few have been more fun to watch than Lyric Swann.
So as the seconds ticked off the clock during Long Reach’s 3A state semifinal loss this winter against Frederick, ending the season for the Lightning and the storied high school career of Swann, Cofield made sure to take a minute to express her appreciation.
“I thanked her for what she’s done for our program, [finishing as] the school’s all-time leading scorer for boys and girls and, at the end of the day, I’m a fan,” said Cofield, who was the first to embrace her teary-eyed senior on the floor at Towson University’s SECU Arena. “I wanted to make sure I thanked her for that effort the last four years. She’s definitely been a program changer.”
In her four years on varsity, Swann has certainly compiled her fair share of gaudy stats. She ranks first in school history — and seventh all-time among all Howard County girls basketball players — with 1,571 career points.
She’s also compiled 375 rebounds, 307 steals, 263 assists and 191 made 3-pointers.
And, by nearly every measurement, Swann saved her best for last. This year, she led the county with a career-best average of 21 points per game to go along with also setting career highs for rebounds (5.0 average), steals (4.0) and assists (3.3).
For her efforts, she has been named the first repeat Howard County Times/Columbia Flier girls basketball Player of the Year since River Hill’s Keisha Eaddy in 2005 and 2006.
For all the individual accomplishments and accolades, though, Swann doesn’t hesitate when she says all of it pales in comparison to being a part of making history as a team. After never previously winning a county or region championship, the Lightning captured both titles in back-to-back seasons with Swann leading the way.
“The stats, the records that I set, those will all be broken one day. But the things we did as a team, being the first to do it at Long Reach, that stuff is forever,” Swann said. “Don’t get me wrong; all the numbers are exciting and humbling. I just look at all those personal accomplishments as extra rewards on the side while I was going on the journey with my team.”
This year’s journey was unlike any before it for Swann and the Lightning. Despite high expectations after a run to the state championship the previous winter, Long Reach struggled out of the gates this year with two losses in its first three games.
Swann was shining individually, averaging more than 25 points in those contests, but she quickly realized that what her team needed was more than for her to just to score. Her teammates needed her to be a leader.
“With Kiana [Williams] having graduated, my role was completely different and I don’t think it really hit me how different until we took those two losses,” Swann said. “It was up to me to help figure out how to make out team jell, how to get everyone playing their best. I have always just kind of been a leader by example … I had to learn to be a vocal leader too.”
Long Reach hit its stride with Swann embracing the challenge of a new role. It reeled off11 straight county victories during the middle of the season to help earn a share of the team’s second consecutive league title.
The success rolled right over into the playoffs, where wins over Centennial, Reservoir and J.M. Bennett secured the program’s second consecutive region championship as well.
Swann was the team’s leading scorer in 19 of 23 games, scoring in double figures in all but two contests. On those rare occasions where her shot wasn’t falling, though, she made sure to get teammates involved early and often. In her lowest scoring game of the year — a seven-point outing in a late-season win over Mt. Hebron — she had a season-high eight assists.
“From Day 1, Lyric has always been a egoless superstar,” Cofield said. “It’s always been trying to do anything she can do to contribute to the team. A lot of the time what we needed was for her to score, but on those occasions when that wasn’t the case, she seemed to truly enjoy deferring to her teammates and watching them succeed.”
Swann’s personal successes extend beyond the basketball court, too. She compiled a weighted GPA of 4.5 this year as a senior and she’s accepted a scholarship to attend the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in the fall, where she will play basketball and plans to major in graphic design.
Big picture, she hopes she can have a similar impact on the UMBC program that she did at Long Reach.
“I feel like I’ve been ready for awhile now to see what I can do on the next level … to kind of start that next chapter, I guess,” she said. “It’s been a few years since UMBC has had a winning season, similar to Long Reach before I got there. So I’m going to try and go in, work hard and help turn things around to put UMBC back on the map.”
Named to first-team All-County are:
Emily Dorn, Reservoir, senior
An All-County selection for the third straight season and a Player of the Year finalist, Dorn concluded her standout high school career by surpassing some historic milestones while helping the Gators tie a program record with 17 overall wins. Dorn surpassed 1,000 career points just before winter break and by the end of the season had put herself second on the school’s all-time scoring list with 1,304 points.
During a playoff victory over Mt. Hebron, where she made the game-winning basket as time expired, she also surpassed 1,000 rebounds for her career. This year specifically, Dorn posted averages of 18.9 points, 12.7 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game — all top-three in the county.
Her versatility as a post threat, outside shooter and as a ball handler made her a matchup nightmare.
“Every season she got better and added more weapons to her game and that came from hard work, dedication, leadership and a desire to excel,” Reservoir coach Deb Taylor said. “She’s versatile and fearless and will continue to improve in college.”
Dorn has signed to play at Ithica College next season.
Saniha Jackson, River Hill, junior
The Hawks got breakout seasons from several players during their run to the 2A state championship this winter but Jackson’s emergence as one of the league’s elite post players is near the top of the list. She finished the year as River Hill’s leader in points (12.3 per game), rebounds (10.0), steals (4.0) and blocks (1.9) — raising her average in all four categories compared to her sophomore campaign.
“Her offseason preparation was evident and she displayed so much more confidence and composure,” River Hill coach Teresa Waters said. “She played [center] this year whereas in year’s past she was often a three or four due to the post players that we had. She also worked on her ball handling, which was another commodity for us. In essence, she matured.”
Jackson finished with 18 games scoring in double figures and 15 with double-digit rebounds. She poured in a career-high 24 points in a win against Catholic over winter break.
Her presence in the paint played a huge role in River Hill closing the winter on a 11-game winning streak that culminated in the program’s first state title since 2006.
Imani Reid, Hammond, senior
A four-year varsity starter who surpassed 1,000 points for her career late in the regular season, Reid was the guiding force for a Golden Bears’ team that achieved the program’s first winning overall record (13-11) since 2001-02.
A lockdown defender (3.7 steals, 1.5 blocks per game), Reid used her length and athleticism to wreak havoc while often guarding the opponent’s top player. Offensively, she excelled at getting to the rim and hitting the mid-range jump shot and averaged a career-high 15.6 points per game. She also finished among the league leaders in rebounds (181) and assists (91).
“Imani was everything to our team. She was our offensive and defensive leader … both on and off the court, her teammates looked to her for guidance and advice,” Hammond coach Ryan Hudy said. “She controlled what we did as a team in terms of strategy and game pace.”
Standout games included scoring a season-high 29 points during a holiday tournament win over Liberty, along with 22 points and seven rebounds in a key late-season victory over Oakland Mills. Reid, who finished with 1,062 career points, has signed to play Division I basketball next year at Bethune-Cookman University.
Aislynn Riggs, Oakland Mills, senior
Looking beyond just points, few players can impact a game the way Riggs can. Utilizing her athleticism, basketball IQ and positioning, the Scorpions’ forward controlled the paint on a level that ranks her among the county’s all-time greats.
This winter she led the county in blocks (6.3 bpg) and steals (4.3 spg) and ranked seventh in rebounds (9.0 rpg).
She is the first county player in the last 20 years to register back-to-back seasons with 150 or more blocks, and her presence alone made opponents have to change their game plans.
“Aislynn set the pulse for this year’s team … we went as she did,” Oakland Mills coach Walt Hagins said. “When she played great, we won.”
In terms of scoring, Riggs averaged 9.8 points per game and was one of five Scorpions players to average at least nine points this winter. She set season highs of 19 points and 15 rebounds in a win over Catonsville during the regular season and achieved three triple-doubles (points, rebounds and blocks).
A back-to-back first-team All-County performer, Riggs helped guide Oakland Mills to its highest overall win total (18) since the 2011-12 season.
Marisa Sanchez-Henry, Howard, junior
A do-everything point guard for the co-county champion Lions this winter, Sanchez-Henry was the engine that made everything go. On a team with no seniors, she assumed a leadership role from Day 1 and went on to finish among the top 10 county players in steals (3.2 average) and assists (2.9) while also averaging 10 points per game.
It was her poise under pressure and ability to play with confidence in those big moments, however, that truly made her stand out.
“Good things happen when the ball is in her hands and she is our maestro on the court,” Howard coach Scott Robinson said. “Marisa is an excellent ball handler with great vision, which prevented teams from pressing us. She also has excellent anticipation and quick hands on the defensive end.”
Sanchez-Henry’s biggest games included scoring a season-high 20 points in a win in December over Mt. Hebron and registering team highs of 18 points and eight assists in a key February victory over first-place Long Reach.
She is already garnering Division I college interest from several schools, including receiving a scholarship offer from Coppin State University.
Tori Valentine, Mt. Hebron, junior
A finalist for Player of the Year honors, Valentine was a first-team All-County selection as a sophomore and yet still managed to improve every facet of her game this winter. She raised her scoring average by more than four points per game to an average of 19.9, second-most among county players.
She also led the league in assists (125) and finished in the top 10 in rebounds (201) and steals (81) for a Vikings program that flipped its record from 9-14 last year to 14-9 this season.
“Tori is a kid that plays with such intensity and she played nearly every minute of every game for us this year,” Mt. Hebron coach Tierney Ahearn said. “She has amazing stats, but that only speaks to one part of her strength and contribution to this team. Tori loved playing with her teammates and she wanted to win for them so badly.”
Valentine scored in double figures in every game but one, including 20 or more points in eight of the final nine games of the season. Included in that finishing stretch was a career-high 28 points against Centennial. Heading into her senior season, she has compiled 997 points for her career.
Reach Brent Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @BKBSunSports