Nine games into a 20-game regular season, St. Mary's Ryken's boys basketball team is on pace to make school history. After a slow start, the Knights have won five of their last six games to raise their overall record to 6-3. They are also 3-2 in the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference.

No team in Ryken history has won more than 12 games in a single season. This year's team--led by sharp-shooters Chad Maloney (12.4 points per game) and Joe Saunders (15.2 ppg)--is halfway there.

"When I took over and they said this school had only had one winning record in history, I said I would change that," second-year coach J.P. Jones said. "We got close last year. . . . This year, we plan to do it."

Ryken finished 11-12 last year--the second-best record since the Knights began play in 1979--and set a school record with eight conference wins. What Jones wants to see now, particularly with his entire starting lineup back from last season, is progress.

It didn't come in the first two weeks of the season, when Ryken fell to Riverdale Baptist, 101-44, and then lost at home to Northern, 48-44. A 40-34 win over McDonough on Dec. 17 pulled the Knights' record to 2-2 and prompted Jones to hold a team meeting.

"I guess we had some senioritis there at the beginning," Jones said. "We just weren't working very well together offensively. We had a team meeting after the McDonough game to straighten some things out."

Since that meeting, Ryken's only loss has come against league-leading Calvert, 68-64. The Knights opened that game with a 16-0 run but let it slip away. Ryken has taken a lead of 13 or more points in every game this season--even the losses.

"We've lost our focus at times, and particularly in that Calvert game, it cost us," Jones said. "It's difficult for these kids who have never won here before to be the hunted, and they're having a tough time dealing with it. It's a different mind-set when you're ahead and trying to put someone away, than when you are down and trying to attack, but we'll get there."

Hawkins Out of Lineup

Patuxent senior Ryan Hawkins, the SMAC's top shooting guard, has missed the Panthers' last two games (not including last night's scheduled game) for the Panthers because of parental restrictions, school athletic director Kim Roof said Tuesday. Hawkins did not play in the Panthers' 80-68 loss to Westlake on Jan. 12 or in the team's 74-45 win over Chopticon on Friday. Coach Todd Nutter said he does not know when Hawkins will return to the team.

Hawkins and his parents were unavailable to comment on Tuesday.

Hawkins, who has averaged 14.6 points per game for the Panthers, turned in the SMAC's top scoring performance this season on Dec. 10, when he had 33 points against Calvert, including 8-of-12 from three-point range. He was a first-team All-Extra selection in 1997-98, leading Patuxent to 16-7 record in its first varsity season with 14.0 points per game.

Hawkins played point guard last year, filling in for the injured Kavin Gantt. With Gantt healthy this year, Hawkins is now a shooting guard.



Westlake at Great Mills

Jan. 26, 6:30 p.m.

These two teams met last Friday, and Westlake won convincingly, 65-57. It was Great Mills's first conference loss of the season and Westlake's fourth straight win. The battle inside between Westlake's Randy Starks (6-foot-4, 260 pounds) and Great Mills's Clifford Dukes (6-4, 240) remains the most intriguing matchup. Starks had the better of it Friday, finishing with a game-high 24 points and 16 rebounds.


St. Mary's Ryken at Westlake

Friday, 6:30 p.m.

The Knights have won three in a row after a 1-6 start. The Wolverines have won four of their last five games after a 1-3 start. More important, both teams are 3-2 in the SMAC and still in position to affect the league race. Ashley Simms is Ryken's top scorer at 9.8 points per game. Westlake is led by Meredith Bell (12 ppg) and Arial Pegues (11.5 ppg).

CAPTION: Joe Saunders, left, shown trying to get a shot off against Northern's Albert Rice, leads St. Mary's Ryken with 15.2 points per game. The Knights have won five of their last six games.