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  • The Cougars went 19-6 overall, their second straight season with a program-best 19 wins.
    Courtesy photo
    The Cougars went 19-6 overall, their second straight season with a program-best 19 wins.

Proud Season For Chesapeake Girls Basketball

Colin Murphy
View Bio
March 21, 2018

Another year, another step forward for the ascendant Chesapeake girls basketball program.

The Cougars went 19-6 overall in 2017-2018 and advanced deeper in the playoffs than any Chesapeake team since 2002, notching two road playoff victories and reaching a region final for only the second time in program history.

Chesapeake battled closely with host Long Reach for three quarters in the 3A East region final on March 3 before the Lightning opened up a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter and managed to hold off the Cougars and advance to the state tournament.

It was a disappointing end for a Chesapeake team one win away from the state’s final four, but it was also just one result in a proud season filled with memorable moments.

“Obviously it was a hard loss for the girls,” said fourth-year head coach Maria Gray. “They really wanted to go as far as they could and hopefully get to Towson [University, site of the state tournament]. But now the sadness has dissipated and we can kind of reflect on the season. We had some incredible moments.”

The Cougars started with a tough early-season schedule that included December losses to Long Reach and Tuscarora along with quality wins over Notre Dame Prep and Annapolis Area Christian School. After a January 17 loss to South River, the Cougars were a respectable 8-5 overall.

But then Chesapeake got on a roll. The Cougars won their next 11 games, tearing through the regular season before beating Stephen Decatur and J.M. Bennett in the playoffs to make the region final.

The regular season included a momentous 57-45 victory over Old Mill on February 2, a Friday-night rivalry win over Northeast on February 9 and a buzzer-beating 68-66 win over Meade in the regular-season finale on February 16.

The win over Old Mill was the program’s first since the 2004-2005 season and ended the Patriots’ 58-game regular-season county win streak that stretched back to 2014.

“The Old Mill game that we won was probably the most exciting game,” said junior Haley Downin. “We hadn’t beaten them in a long time. They’ve always been the best in our county to play against, so to beat them, we believed we could beat anybody.”

On February 16 against the Mustangs, reserve forward Morgan Gray stepped into the spotlight after a mid-game injury to starter Kaitlyn Phares. In the closing seconds of a tie game, Gray corralled a missed shot by Brooke Worrell, immediately went up for a shot and beat the buzzer with a game-winning layup:

“When Morgan Gray got my rebound and put it back up, she hadn’t gotten as much playing time, so that was big for her,” said Worrell. “It was an intense game. For her to get that rebound and score it for us and win it, it was amazing.”

Prior to the 2016-2017 season, the Cougars had not beaten the Mustangs in Maria Gray’s first two years as coach. They are now 4-0 against Meade in the past two years. Similarly, the team is 2-0 against Annapolis and Arundel in that stretch, and now has a signature win against Old Mill as well.

“It gives you confidence you can contend in the county,” said coach Gray. “Old Mill is obviously a powerhouse program. We’ve always played a bit intimidated by that, but we just said, ‘Just go out and play your hearts out. Whatever happens, happens. Don’t worry about the score. Just go play. Just go have fun and play your hearts out.’ And they did. They did everything they needed to do.”

Gray’s arrival as coach at the start of the 2013-14 season ushered in a new era of Chesapeake basketball. The team won just five games in 2011-2012 and was 1-21 in 2012-2013. In Gray’s first year in 2013-2014, the team went 11-11, followed by records of 16-9 in 2015-16, 19-4 in 2016-17 and 19-6 this year.

The 19 wins in each of the last two seasons are the two highest single-season win totals in the program’s 41-year history.

Powering much of the Cougars’ success this year was the continued sterling play of Worrell, the Anne Arundel County Coaches’ Player of the Year for the second straight season. Worrell averaged 23.4 points, 9 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 1.6 assists this season and scored a total of 584 points this winter, the highest single-season total in Chesapeake history.

The senior finished her career as Chesapeake’s all-time leading scorer with 1,696 points. She is verbally committed to play at Morgan State University next year.

Worrell entered the program with coach Gray and said they achieved many of the goals they set four years ago.

“We wanted to win more games. We didn’t want to just win one game. We wanted to come in, play hard, practice hard and just win,” said Worrell, who said she was glad to get the chance to be a leader on this year’s team. “This was a younger team than what we had in the past, but I feel like we had a good season because everybody stepped up. I even stepped up as a player. I wasn’t a captain last year but became a captain this year. I had to lead my team, which I’m not used to doing because I had the older girls leading me and getting me ready for the games and getting me pumped up and stuff. So my role kind of changed because I had to lead the younger girls and push them harder in the practices and the games.”

Worrell, Downin (13.3 points per game, 4.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 3.2 steals), Summer Smith (5.7 points, 7.9 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 2.4 steals), Corinne Castle (6.7 points, 7.7 rebounds), Ashley Chew (6.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.2 steals), Morgan Gray (2 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1 block), Kaitlyn Phares, Morgan LeCompte, Karlie Stracke, Kiersten Blanchard and Jordan Snyder also contributed to much of the Cougars’ success while senior Mackenzie Bortle missed the season with injury, while young reserves Julianna Brady, Abby Mollick, Georgia Spangler and Mya Hamstra provided depth as the Cougars’ future leaders.

That future is bolstered by the continued involvement of the varsity Cougars with the Lake Shore girls programs, a partnership which has blossomed into a thriving pipeline of Pasadena girls who love basketball.

“It’s really nice actually because they come out to our basketball camps and we get to interact with them, and then they come to our games and be there for us,” said Downin of the younger Lake Shore girls.

Coach Gray said the combination of the varsity team playing well and the Cougars’ involvement with Lake Shore has raised the profile of Chesapeake basketball and laid the foundation for continued success.

“We like to stay involved, and we have great collaboration with the Lake Shore coaches, and we like to put our players back down [as youth coaches]. We had girls in the feeder program drive all the way to Salisbury for our J.M. Bennett game. To see that, they’re now looking forward to the day they can wear a Chesapeake jersey, and there’s a sense of pride in that and excitement in that.”

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