When St. Mary's freshman guard Melissa Perkins received a piggyback ride from a teammate as the Saints accepted the championship trophy in the Anne Arundel Recreation and Parks summer league, it was the only time the team's smallest player didn't carry her weight on the court.
Perkins, 5-foot-4, posted eight points, four rebounds and three steals in a 37-35 victory over Old Mill last week and emerged from the shadow of one of the team's tallest and most talented players -- senior guard Allison Perkins, her sister.
Though they are separated by three years and six inches, it's easy to tell they are related in pregame warmups: They each sport a black sock stretched to the right knee and a left sock drooping at ankle-height. Each wears a sweatband above the left knee. Each ties long hair in a ponytail.
"I really don't know why we do that," said Allison, 17, an All-Met lacrosse player who will play that sport at Maryland in 2006. "It's just a sister thing."
The Perkinses' performance last week at Severna Park Middle School shouldn't come as a surprise. Allison (seven points, seven rebounds, five assists) knew Melissa could score from the perimeter, and Melissa has seen her older sister evolve into a threat everywhere on the court with her shooting and passing skills.
"We grew up playing basketball together on our driveway," said Melissa, 14. "I think we each have a good basketball sense."
But neither had experience playing on the same team until this summer. They led the Saints to a record of 9-1, including a double-overtime victory over previously undefeated Spalding in the final game of the regular season to earn a spot in last week's championship game against the Patriots (8-2), who had defeated St. Mary's in the regular season.
Old Mill, which led by as many as seven points in the second half, didn't let its final game of the summer overshadow what had been a productive season. The Patriots were without their top player, senior Kristie Watkins -- an all-county forward who averaged 12.8 points per game last year -- who spent the summer season competing for her Amateur Athletic Union team.
"I saw a lot of improvement since the beginning of the summer, and that should help us this year," said junior guard Charelle Brooke, who scored seven points. "I think this [high school] year can be our year."
What happens during the summer doesn't count, but for teams such as St. Mary's, it provided important training. The three top scorers for last high school season -- Bri Gauthier, Bridget Noon and Sharnae Hunt -- who accounted for 80 percent of the Saints' scoring, graduated in June.
The summer league gave the six returning players, including Perkins and fellow seniors Mary Ruttum (13 points), Caitlin Hill (two points) and Julie Hammond (two points), the opportunity to form the initial bonds of team chemistry with incoming freshmen such as Emily Slear (two points) and Amanda Lawrence (four points). St. Mary's celebrated its title by dining at a nearby pizzeria, satisfied its summer work will pay off this winter in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference, one of the toughest leagues in the state.
"This was a big accomplishment for us because we lost some great players from last year's team," said Hill, who made a layup with under a minute remaining for the winning margin. "We have a team in which every player has gotten better. We really proved this summer we can play as a team."