Severna Park senior Julia Waters is one of the top basketball players in the county, but on some weekends she trades in her jersey for a gold vest, her sneakers for riding boots and her teammates for a horse named Bechum.

Her passion for horses often pulls Waters away from the court. And so on the first day of fox hunting season last month, she had to tell her high school and AAU coach, Bill Giblin, that she would miss yet another game.

"It's been really hard, especially in the summer when my trainers want me to ride a bunch of different horses and the basketball coaches want me to practice," said Waters, an all-county forward who helped the Falcons to the county championship last winter. "That's pretty tricky. I could be at the barn all day long finding stuff to do. That's hard when I have to leave."

Waters has been riding since she was 4 years old and recently picked up the sport of fox hunting. Basketball is something she began because she was tall (she is now 6 feet 1) and adults told her to play.

So when the fall fox hunting season opened Oct. 27, the same day as a basketball game, Waters was at Larking Hill farm in Harwood at 6 a.m., painting polish on Bechum's hoofs before darting through the South County countryside. An early dismissal from classes in the second semester will help her split time, so Waters can clean stalls at Christie Clagett's farm, then return to school to lift weights and shoot hoops.

"I like the independence part of [riding]," Waters said. "I like the team sports we do, like basketball, but I get on this horse and work with it . . . it's a big stress reliever for me. . . . I can deal with the issues that come up on my own and I don't have a coach so I see the progress."

Waters, the Falcons' strongest inside presence, credits riding with improving her strength and balance on the basketball court. Riding has helped her gluteals, legs, calves and triceps.

"Rebounding is where I feel it the most," said Waters, who led the Falcons with 214 rebounds (8.9 per game) last year. "If I haven't ridden in a long time, it's really hard for me to have as good a center of balance and gravity. The center of your body has to be over top of the horse and you have to move with him from side to side when they shift their weight.

"In basketball it's almost the same thing because you have to have a wide base but you still have to be able to go back and forth when people are pushing on you."

Waters finished last season with 10 blocked shots and shot 55.8 percent. She is the Falcons' leading returning scorer, with an average of 12.5 points per game. Still, she missed almost half her AAU games this summer, leaving Giblin to wonder what her potential is.

"It took too much time away from her over the summer," said Giblin, who coached four of his Severna Park players and four girls from Chesapeake on an AAU team. "I think it's a real big deal. Summer is where you get better. I'm not a coach that is going to say you have to play basketball 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but if she wants to go to college, you have to practice to go to college."

Waters has sparked interest from a few Division I and II programs, but she knows the time it takes to play a high level of collegiate basketball wouldn't leave enough time to ride. She has been looking at Division III colleges, but said she is interested only in those with campus or nearby riding programs.

Waters took an official visit to Goucher College, which has an equestrian program on campus. She is also interested in Maryland because it is close to Clagett's farm, but she wouldn't play basketball there.

"I don't want to play that much basketball," Waters said. "I really don't think I'm the kid who goes out and shoots 100 free throws at nine o'clock at night after practice. I do the required practices."

Giblin, like most of Waters's teammates, isn't too sure of what she does when she can't come to games.

"What do you do?" he asked her one day in the hall, outside the weight room.

"We do posting, up and down, up and down, like squats," she said.

"Oh, you make the horse go sideways, gallops and trots and all that?" he asked.

"And jumps and go across streams when [the horse] doesn't want to go," she said.

"You just whack the back of it," he said.

"No, you can't do that!" she said.

Giblin is good-natured about Walters's competing interests, and understands he will never win in the battle over her time. So he accepts that one of his best players also loves her horses. Plus, every now and then she lets his kids ride her pony.

Julia Waters, a senior at Severna Park, is offered a traditional drink on opening day of Marlborough Hunt in Harwood.Julia Waters, right, is an all-county forward who helped Severna Park to

the county championship last winter. She is the Falcons' leading returning scorer (12.5 ppg) and rebounder (8.9 rpg).Waters gets her horse, which is named Bechum, ready for Marlborough Hunt.