A year ago, when Anne Arundel County held JV county championship games in basketball for the first time, the Severna Park girls JV basketball team finished third in the standings and missed out on a chance to win the county.
“Our goal as a team this year was to get into the county championship,” said sophomore Sydney Nwuli. “This year, everybody was really striving for it.”
The Falcons earned a berth in the title game at North County High School on February 23, and once there, they left no doubt over who deserved the crown.
Severna Park unleashed an overpowering performance to throttle Meade, 51-29, and achieve the season’s championship objective in a dominant all-around display.
Jillian Murphy came off the bench to score a team-high 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting from behind the 3-point line, while Nwuli and Theresa Bragg scored 11 points apiece for the Falcons, who finished the season a county-best 20-2 overall.
The victory came on the 100th day of the season, as noted by sophomore Ella Ryan, who scored 6 points and led the Falcon offense from the point guard position.
“We had a lot of energy coming into this game,” Ryan said. “This is the 100th day of the season, so we wanted to come in here and win.”
The energy showed from the opening tip as the Falcons race out to a lead. Ryan went coast-to-coast for a layup for the game’s first basket, and the Falcons set up a full-court press to agitate talented Meade guards Emya Huggins and Laleh Black.
After a basket by Nwuli, Murphy entered the game and shook loose for a left-corner 3 on her first touch, and the Falcons were up 10-2, having clogged up Meade’s attack at every turn and moved the ball efficiently on offense.
Bragg said the defense set the tone for Severna Park, who suffered one of their two losses this season to Meade, a 52-42 defeat on January 23. Bragg, Nwuli, Cat Cleary, Emersyn Kelter and Kylie Milton helped to clog up driving lanes and protect the basket, while Ryan, Murphy, Reagan Clark and Peyton Sullivan played great on-the-ball perimeter defense.
“Our plan was to lock down their two main girls,” Bragg said, “because last time they both scored 20.”
Murphy hit another 3-pointer in the second quarter, as did Sullivan, who also fed Nwuli inside for a basket as Severna Park stretched its lead to 26-10 by halftime.
The Falcons were hustling to every rebound and loose ball, limiting Meade to difficult shots and no second chances.
“We worked so much in practice on rebounding, because we were not rebounding [well] at one point this season,” said Sullivan, who finished with 8 points and described the Falcons as complementing each other on the court. “We played together, played as a team. We knew what each other could do, and each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”
Any prospect of a Meade adjustment and a second-half rally was quickly doused by the Falcons, who got baskets by Ryan, Sullivan and Bragg to open up a 32-10 lead at the start of the third quarter, forcing a Mustang timeout and pushing the Severna Park crowd, which included the face-painted varsity Falcons, to further levels of thunderous cheering.
Murphy entered the game again and swished two more 3’s, both from the left corner, on consecutive possessions, putting Severna Park up 38-12 and bringing the house down with a frenzied eruption of applause from the Falcon bench and fan section.
“When I go in the game, it’s to do that play and shoot the ball,” said Murphy, whose teammates serenaded her postgame interview with her on-court nickname, Jill Kill. “I just tell myself to focus on the basket and put it in.”
There was no Meade comeback forthcoming. The Falcons got quality minutes from reserves Genevieve Mullervy, Delanie Aberie, Julia DiMarsico, Sarah Smith and Sofia Williams and kept the pedal to the floor to finish the Mustangs.
Ryan said the team benefitted from its midseason stumbles. The Falcons got off to an 11-0 start, and there was talk of an undefeated year. They then lost consecutive games to Southern and Meade in late January, spurring refocused efforts to improve.
“Even though you lose, that’s something you learn from,” said Ryan. “We learned from those two games, and that really helped us.”
Murphy said the home loss to Meade on January 23 fueled a fire.
“We were so mad,” said Murphy. “It was on our home court. After that, every practice, every time we played, it was a goal in the back of our minds: Beat Meade.”
Nwuli even said throughout the season they jokingly referred to the county championship as their “national championship,” playfully pushing up their goals every practice.
“We knew what we wanted since the beginning of the season,” said Nwuli. “Every practice, we called it a national championship just to hype it up.”
Falcon head coach Pat Carr, who coaches the Falcons with Donny Williams and Brooke Austin, spoke highly of Meade as an opponent and was naturally proud to see the Falcons execute as planned.
“Our ladies came out and did an excellent job of executing the game plan,” said Carr. “[Meade is] a really awesome team … but our girls performed, and it was really awesome to see.”
He likewise was proud that the Falcons achieved their stated potential.
“First day of tryouts, 100 days ago, I told them, ‘This team is good enough to be in the county championship.’ They really took that to heart,” said Carr, noting that, as JV players, they still have new heights to reach as they move up to varsity in future seasons. “The growth I’ve seen from them has been great,” he said. “I’ve seen some of them since the summer of eighth grade, so it’s going to be really cool to see them over the next two years as well.”