Julia Collins, pictured pulling down a rebound in last year’s Maryland 3A final, has provided experienced on a young, reloaded River Hill squad. (Doug Kapustin/For The Washington Post)

Before Friday night’s game against then-No. 20 Howard, River Hill Coach Teresa Waters watched the tape of her team’s first meeting with the Lions, a 45-35 loss in the season-opener.

“Oh my gosh,” Waters said. “We were a completely different team.”

The Hawks reached the Maryland 3A finals last season but lost three starters and several other key contributors to graduation. Facing one of the toughest stretches in Howard County to begin this season, they dropped their first three games by an average of 11 points.

“We were just still trying to put it together,” said Julia Collins, one of the two returning starters. “It was like a new team for us.”

Now, that new team is beginning to gel. On Friday night, River Hill overcame a 12-point deficit on the road to upset Howard, 52-43, and firmly re-establish itself as one of the county’s top teams. Since starting the season 0-3, the Hawks have won 11 of their past 12 games, including five in a row.

Several players have stepped up for River Hill (11-4, 9-4 Howard County), with Jess Hopkins and Sydney Poindexter at the top of the list. But Waters said the team’s success all begins with her two returning starters: Julia Collins and her twin sister, Jenna.

“They’re like our utility players,” Waters said. “Last year, although we had five seniors, those two were the glue.”

The Collins twins rank among the team’s leaders in scoring, rebounding and assists, but their most important contributions often don’t make the box scores. Sometimes it’s an extra pass or deflection on a key defensive possession. Most of the time, it comes down to hustle plays.

“We just try to be leaders,” Jenna Collins said. “On the court and off.”

Julia is more offensive-minded and Jenna focuses on defense. But away from the basketball, they share interests and have a similar personality; “like two peas in a pod,” Jenna said. While Waters believes they have the talent and work ethic to earn basketball scholarships, the Collins twins have decided to go in a different direction, both committing to play lacrosse at Navy.

“We could have gone to different schools, but I always knew we’d end up at the same place,” Jenna said.

“There was really no other place that compared to it,” Julia added. “We just fell in love with everything at Navy.”

Their college careers, and lacrosse season this spring, are still a few months away. So in the meantime, the Collins twins will try to lead an inexperienced River Hill team back to the state finals, this year at Towson’s SECU Arena. With the twins leading the way, Waters believes making a run to states is possible.

“Everyone feeds off Jenna and Julia,” she said. “At the same time, it takes a unit. At any point in time, it’s a whole unit that’s got to do this thing. But if we do the little things, big things happen.”

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