When Megan Longo took over the La Plata girls' basketball team last season, just one year removed from her college playing days at Division II Millersville University in Pennsylvania, it never occurred to her that players had to be taught how to win. Longo had benefited from a successful high school program, and Millersville won 81 games in her four years, twice advancing to the East Region of the NCAA Division II tournament.

"I had always come from winning programs, but then I get here and these girls never really knew how to win," Longo said. "Obviously I'm a young coach, but it surprised me and sometimes even frustrated me. That's never something I thought I would have to teach."

In the two years before Longo's arrival, La Plata went just 8-33, including a 1-19 campaign in 2000-01.

The lessons on winning slowly began to sink into the team's mentality.

Last season the Warriors finished 6-17 but showed promise, with eight of their losses coming by seven points or less.

This season La Plata has matched its win total from a year ago with a 6-1 start, including its recent championship in the Four Star Holiday tournament at Chopticon, Dec. 27-28.

"We had the talent, even last year," Longo said. "It was more of a mind-set. They had to learn how to win, and I think they have, so now it's starting to click."

Senior center Kia Stewart leads the team with 17.9 points (third-best in the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference) and 7.9 rebounds per game, and guards Myesha Gillespie, a senior, and Lindsey Preuss, a junior, provide good balance from the perimeter. Gillespie (15.4 ppg) has made 12 three-pointers in seven games, and Preuss (9.3 ppg) leads the league with 17 three-pointers. Another senior, guard Jamie Rankin, is not much of a scoring threat but rates as the team's top defender.

"We have so many girls who are doing the little things this year that they didn't do a year ago," Longo said. "And I think that comes from confidence. These girls deserve all the credit for hanging in there, and for working so hard. I can't tell you what it means to see it finally paying off for them. It's all coming together, and it's fun." . . .

Point guard Charita Roberts, a 2001-02 second-team All-Met, has been released from her letter-of-intent with the Virginia women's basketball program, the university announced yesterday. After graduating from Douglass High School in Upper Marlboro last May, Roberts took summer classes at U-Va. but did not enroll for the fall semester for what officials termed "personal reasons."

Roberts, a 5-foot-7 native of Winchester, Va., starred at Shenandoah Valley Christian Academy before transferring to Douglass for her final year of high school.

-- Angela Watts and Jim Crowley