The upper tier of girls’ basketball in the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference plays out as expected at this point in the season. Defending state titlists Calvert, North Point and experienced No. 19 Westlake are battling it out in the top three spots.

Meanwhile, an unassuming, youthful Northern squad is leading the rest of the pack with a 9-7 overall record and setting the stage for a breakthrough in the next two years. The Patriots have won seven of their last eight games and are fourth in the standings with a conference record of 5-2.

They have no seniors on the roster (three graduated last year, including two four-year varsity players) and start four sophomores and a junior. The 14-strong lineup has seven juniors, six sophomores and one freshman.

“With each game, they’re getting more and more confident and we’re improving, which is great,” Coach Brad Kingsbury said. “I don’t think we’ve ever been up there in the standings this late in the season. Our record has improved every year.”

Northern struggled against reigning 4A champion North Point (13-2), but Kingsbury said the game was a good barometer to see how inexperience factors into the Patriots’ performance against top teams.

Host B.J. Koubaroulis runs through the top plays from the week of basketball in the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area. (Nick Plum for Synthesis/Koubaroulis LLC./The Washington Post)

“You could tell we were nervous,” he said. “In the second quarter, we started to do well. It was a good learning experience...those girls are good and our girls are very young. But as the game progresses we can play with them; we just have to relax and do what they’re capable of.”

Sometimes the team will huddle and remind each other not to panic, sophomore forward Gina Seifert said.

“Going against those teams, we get intimidated easily just by their name and what they’ve done in the past,” she said.

Seifert zigzagged back and forth from junior varsity to varsity last season, jumping up and down for a few games. She’s averaging a double-double and racks up points even when she doesn’t seem to be playing her best, Kingsbury explains—like the time he wasn’t sure Seifert was playing to her potential during a 51-41 win at McDonough. But the stat sheets proved otherwise; Seifert led the team with 19 points and nine rebounds.

“Even when it looks like to me that she’s not playing to her capabilities, she’s still playing well,” Kingsbury explained. “She’s very tough, she’s not afraid to take the ball to the basket against anybody.”

The Patriots are on the smaller side, as expected for their youth, but it works to their advantage in transition, Seifert said. Fellow sophomores and three-sport athletes Mykaela Bailey and Natalie LaPlaca are averaging 10.6 and 12.5 points per game, respectively, and both started as freshmen last year. Bailey is set apart by her strong outside shot and ability to impact as a forward and a guard, and LaPlaca leads the team in 3-point field goals and steals per game.

The toughest stretch of the season for Northern started with the North Point loss and continues with Thomas Stone (3-8) and Westlake (14-2) in the next week. A rematch with Chopticon (9-4) after an season-opener loss comes Feb. 14. The Patriots’ most important wins are already behind them in terms of bragging rights — they took down Huntingtown (3-10) twice this season already.

Butler reaches 1,000

Westlake’s Shanea Butler joined future Towson teammate Daijha Thomas of Calvert (13-3) and Chopticon point guard Tyaira Priest in reaching the 1,000-career point mark on a layup against McDonough. Butler has pulled in game-high points in three of the Wolverines’ last four games during a 12-game win streak since Dec. 26.

All-Met Watch: Week 7

Rankings: The Post’s Top 20