Summer league begins the process in which high school basketball teams begin to address the challenges of the upcoming season.
For some girls' teams, such as county and Maryland 4A champion Arundel, which did not have a senior last season, the challenges are few. Yet for some squads -- most notably South River, last season's county championship game finalist -- the outlook is much tougher, giving greater importance to June and July workouts.
South River graduated all four of its post players from last year's team, which finished 20-6, with four losses to Arundel, including the 4A East Region final. The Seahawks must replace Lindsay Sheppard, an All-County forward who averaged a team-high 11.4 points and nine rebounds per game, as well as Alyssa Bolles, Casey Baker and Whitney Wilson, who provided a formidable presence around the basket.
"We have a lot of good guards, but we don't have any forwards coming back, and they were a big part of our team," said senior guard Stacy Hunt. "So summer league gives us a chance to watch what our younger players can do."
Juniors Kim Milligan and Kelly Chubb, forwards on junior varsity last winter, and incoming freshman Katherine Sullivan have given the returning varsity players plenty of hope.
"I knew we were graduating a lot of height, and I was concerned that we wouldn't have anybody to come in for us this year," said South River Coach Chiara Lee. "But the way our new girls have played has impressed me." South River's summer league team is coached by Mona Roche, the mother of former Seahawk standouts Lindsey Roche, who plays for the University of North Carolina Asheville, and Abby Roche.
The post players have complemented an experienced back court of senior Rachel Fry, sophomore Ali Moreland and Hunt, enabling the Seahawks to advance to the Anne Arundel Recreation and Parks Senior League championship against Severna Park (9-1) on Tuesday. The game ended too late to be included in this edition.
South River concluded the league's regular season 9-1, with victories over North County and Severn last week, largely because it was able to work the ball inside.
"I want to show that I can play at this level," Milligan said. "Playing with the varsity team now gives me experience and gives me the chance to work on my post moves. With all the forwards we had graduate, there's a good chance for some of us to make the varsity team."
But whether South River, which lost to Arundel by four points in the 4A East Region final, can dethrone the Wildcats this winter largely will depend on its guards, whose speed has enabled the team to showcase a stifling press and up-tempo offense during summer league.
"One thing I've been trying to do is to make everyone better," said Hunt, who averaged 10.5 points per game last year, just behind Fry's 11. "We're young, so we are using summer league to play a lot of different rotations and see which one works the best."
But regardless of how South River's summer league season ends this week, Lee will have to wait until tryouts begin Nov. 15 to see if the questions surrounding her team's front court have been answered.
"Summer league is just the start of everything. The big test comes in the winter, but I like what's I've seen so far, and it's still too early to tell because tryouts are still a few months away," Lee said. "We still have seven returning players, and they've given us great leadership, and they know we're close to getting becoming a great team."