TOWSON, Md. — As her players stormed the court and her assistant coaches broke out in dance, River Hill girls’ basketball coach Teresa Waters watched the festivities from the sideline with her hands on her hips.
It had been 13 years since Waters last won a state championship with the Hawks, so moments after her team’s 44-39 win over Middletown in the Maryland 2A title game Saturday afternoon, Waters took her time soaking in the milestone.
While her players continued celebrating, Waters grabbed her black purse and switched her Under Armour running shoes for navy blue dress shoes, wanting to look her best for team photos with the championship trophy at Towson University’s SECU Arena.
“Words can’t express what I’m feeling right now,” said Waters, who has been coaching River Hill for 21 years.
The back of River Hill’s navy blue warmup shirts read: “New year. New team. Same dream.” But it had been a while since No. 19 River Hill (20-7) came close to that dream.
After River Hill’s appearance in the 2013 state championship game — where it fell to Aberdeen for the second consecutive year in Class 3A — the Hawks finished with a winning county record just once in the following four seasons.
The Hawks dropped three of their opening four games this season, but Waters kept faith her squad could claim a title because of her players’ improved athleticism and work ethic from past seasons.
River Hill’s players said they realized they could compete with contenders after a one-point overtime loss to Maryland 3A semifinalist Long Reach on Jan. 9. Since then, the Hawks have won 15 consecutive games.
“That was the big turning point for all of us,” said guard Anhyia Smith, who scored a team-high 14 points Saturday.
River Hill led for all of Saturday’s game, but Middletown (24-4) cut the Hawks’ edge to two points with 33.7 seconds remaining. Hawks guard Kennedy Clark converted one of two free throws, and Middletown missed on the ensuing possession. Smith then drained a pair of free throws to seal River Hill’s second state crown.
Smith, forward Saniha Jackson (10) and guard Emily Masker (10) scored in double figures for River Hill, which expects to graduate just one starter. Middletown guard Saylor Poffenbarger netted a game-high 27 points.
“We were also used to the arena,” Masker said. “Yesterday when we walked in, everything was very shiny, and the balls were new. It was bright, and it was a little intimidating.”
During a postgame news conference, Waters set her phone at the back of the room to prevent it from causing a distraction. Still, her ringtone played almost nonstop as she received congratulatory calls.
“It’s been doing that ever since the game was over,” Waters said.