Glenelg Coach Ciaran Lesikar started laughing after Wilson guard Erika Oliver's 35-foot shot banked off the backboard and through the hoop to give her team a 21-20 victory in a Montgomery County Department of Recreation Summer League game last week.

"What can you do? The girl threw it up there, and it went in," he said. "But if that happens this winter when we are playing Mount Hebron, trust me, I won't find it very funny."

That doesn't mean Lesikar doesn't take his team's summer league games seriously. He sits in the stands at Blair High School while one of his player's parents videotapes the game, and when he returns home, he'll spend an hour scrutinizing his team's play.

Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association guidelines prohibit high school head coaches, as well as members of their staff, from coaching their school's summer league team, but coaches such as Lesikar attend games hoping to see something they can develop when practice begins on Nov. 15.

"Some of the things we do in summer league I'll use during the season," Lesikar said. "I want to see which of our players connect the best on the court."

What separates Glenelg from most county teams is that the Gladiators choose to play in a summer league outside Howard County. It's a strategy Mount Hebron also uses, competing in a league at Villa Julie College, as well as River Hill, which participates in a league at Riverdale Baptist against the many of the top teams from Prince George's County and the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference.

"I like that we play teams from all over the area that we haven't played before," said Glenelg junior guard Lauren Maxson. "Since we don't know what to expect, it forces us to play well as a team if we want to win."

Long Reach, Hammond, Atholton, Wilde Lake and Reservoir will try to get better by playing in the Howard Community College league that begins tomorrow and runs through Aug. 12.

Several of those coaches feel playing league opponents during the summer works to their benefit because the quality of play in the county has improved significantly.

During the past decade, Howard County teams struggled against nonleague opponents, especially in the playoffs when they had to face teams from Prince George's County. But last winter, River Hill won the 3A East Region tournament, beating two teams from Prince George's County -- Douglass and three-time defending state champion Gwynn Park.

Meantime, in the 2A South, Glenelg and Atholton lost to eventual-champion Potomac by a combined five points.

"I think we proved as a league last year that we are more competitive, and much more competitive than we'd been in previous years," Long Reach Coach Kevin Broadus said. "I think we can get better against the other teams in our league, but I just want our girls to play basketball so they get an idea of what to work on."

One of the biggest challenges for the county's coaches during summer league play is fielding a complete team, as players have to miss games because of family vacations and commitments to other summer sports teams such as softball and lacrosse.

"One of the reasons I could care less if we win is because you never know how many girls are going to show up," said Mount Hebron Coach Scott Robinson, who sat in the front row and watched his team post a 45-17 victory over Catonsville last week despite having only six players. "But I think for the girls who want to get better, summer league is a good opportunity for them."

Mount Hebron junior guard Jackie Doherty said she likes the relaxed atmosphere of summer basketball. Doherty, who played in her last summer game wearing her club lacrosse uniform, said players have the freedom to try new skills.

"I love that there is no pressure, and I can do whatever I want and not get yelled at," she said. "I think playing together in the summer will really help us come together as a team, and that should help us when our regular season starts."

Alyssa Geisler, left, of Glenelg looks to shoot around Gabrielle Lewis-White of Wilson in a summer league game.