On New Year's Day, the Crossland girls basketball team was ranked No. 1 in the Washington area. Few could challenge the Cavaliers' ranking after they handily beat three of the area's top teams en route to the IAABO tournament title in late December and an unbeaten record.

But the new year brought Crossland more adversity than it could handle. As it did in nearly every other school, the institution of Prince George's County's minimum 2.0 average requirement to compete in extracurricular activities hurt Coach Charlotte Worthy's team.

"The 2.0 rule cost us a starter and the team's sixth player," said Crossland Athletic Director Larry Layman. "That hurt us to be sure, but the injuries are what really did this team in."

Against Bladensburg three weeks ago, Natalie Whisonant, the team's leading scorer and rebounder and one of the area's best players, suffered a broken wrist. She tried to come back and play with a soft cast, but was ineffective.

To compound matters, point guard Camille Exum was lost in the next game due to a knee injury.

Without four of its six best players, Crossland was ordinary and lost to Bladensburg in the first round of the playoffs last week.

"With a little bit of luck, this could have been a state championship team," said Layman. "But injuries and academic ineligibility stopped them. It's not that the ball club just went bad. There were very good reasons for their decline.

"I just hope the players who were forced off the team by the 2.0 rule learned something from this experience. If so, then it's been a valuable lesson."

Mike Mongelli, who directed Hammond to the Maryland Class C basketball championship two years ago, has retired. Mongelli, who previously coached at Pallotti, Baltimore's Cardinal Gibbons, Catonsville Community College and the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, had coached the Bears since the school opened eight years ago . . . Two Howard County wrestling coaches (Wilde Lake's Frank Rhodes and Centennial's Ron Martin) also will resign after this season . . . An eardrum injury last Wednesday forced St. John's diver Jim Walton to miss last weekend's 21st annual Washington Metropolitan Swimming and Diving championships. Walton had been the regular-season leader and had been expected to dominate the Metros. Walton has decided to attend West Point . . . Are the state basketball playoffs fair enough? Consider that almost 200 boys and girls teams began postseason play about 10 days ago and you'd have to agree that each school had its shot . . . Last Friday was the first day for baseball, softball and track practice, according to Maryland Public Secondary School Athletic Association rules. The first games and meets will be played on March 21. Montgomery County's co-ed volleyball practice began yesterday. Co-ed games begin on March 26 . . . The Metro Conference's slow-pitch softball league, the area's only scholastic slow-pitch and boys varsity softball league, began practice for its 15th season last week.