Arundel sophomore forward Tiffany Johnson showed up for tryouts this season, made the team and then quit for personal reasons. For the next few days she questioned whether it was the right thing to do.
"It was a bad feeling," said Johnson, who is one of the team's top post players. "For the whole week it was just eating away at me."
Johnson's love for the game brought her back and she since has rekindled a chemistry that is integral to the school's quest to win its third state title. As Arundel heads into tonight's Maryland 4A semifinal game against defending champion Churchill, everyone knows their roles, including Johnson. Some of her toughest competition, though, has come from sophomore teammate Alex McGuire.
McGuire, the Wildcats' leading scorer with an average of 18 points per game, has doubled up as a guard and post player this season. Moving her to the frontcourt increased the team's rebounding and challenged Johnson to improve.
"I feel I have to bring the heat," said Johnson, who is averaging 7.4 points and 8.0 rebounds. "I should step up to the level she's at. . . . If we do play each other [in practice], we're really competitive. I don't want her to score on me and she doesn't want me to score on her. Practice is competitive, but it's good because it makes us better."
Arundel went from 16-8 last season to 22-3 this winter and earned its sixth region title in nine years Saturday. Moreover, the Wildcats have won 13 consecutive games.
Still, with three sophomore starters, Arundel is untested in the state playoffs. Senior guards Amanda Hernandez and Jessie Collins are the exception; they were freshmen on varsity the last time the team won a state title in 2000.
Hernandez is the team's top perimeter shooter and ranks third in scoring (13 points per game). Collins is a gritty defensive player who can also drive and trails only McGuire in scoring with an average of 14 points per game. Arundel has averaged 69 points while yielding an average of 43. Sophomore Ana Baker is an unselfish point guard who has gained experience playing AAU basketball with McGuire.
Johnson, McGuire and Hernandez work well together -- they were all-county volleyball selections last fall. The trio led the team to one of the best seasons in school history, but fell short of the state title. They vowed not to let that happen again.
"We knew that we should've went all the way," said Hernandez, who scored a game-high 22 points in the Wildcats' win over Meade in the 4A East Region final. "We had the talent, too, and we took it for granted and then we ended up losing. For basketball it's the same way. We know we have the talent to win. We don't want what happened during volleyball season to happen again. We know what we have to do."
"This team is special, they work real hard," Coach Lee Rogers said. "We're back to where we've always been. . . . They're just happy to be part of the team."