Sam Herman and Qalea Ismail both arrived on Patterson Mill High School's campus during the fall of 2011 as high-profile freshman basketball players, outstanding students and close friends.
In June, they will graduate as two of the most decorated and successful players in the history of Harford County high school athletics.
Herman, Ismael and sophomore Chyna Latimer led the Patterson Mill girls' basketball team to a 56-44 victory against Oakdale during the Class 2A state championship game at Towson University's SECU Arena March 14 to claim the Huskies' second straight state crown.
The victory capped a magnificent four-year run for Herman and Ismail.
"From the moment they stepped on the floor as freshman, Sam and Qalea have done some amazing things,” Patterson Mill head coach Holly Ismail said. "They set the precedent for Patterson Mill girls' basketball. I think the year prior to them coming in, the team had won only two games, so they turned it around. We won our fourth regional championship [March 9] and are back in the final four again."
In addition to serving as the Huskies' head coach, Holly is also Qalea's mom. She served as Herman and Qalea Ismail's Emmorton Recreation Council head coach and as the Maryland Elite AAU team head coach.
The Emmorton and AAU teams not only included Herman and Ismail, but also McDonogh's Danielle Edwards and her cousin, Lindsey, of Roland Park, who both capped their high school careers during the Eagles' 57-46 victory against the Reds during the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference championship game Feb. 15.
"It's been a lot of fun watching those girls play together for so long," said Qalea's father, Qadry Ismail, a member of the Ravens' Super Bowl XXV-winning team. "To watch the girls win back-to-back state championships is a big thrill."
Qalea Ismail, who will play collegiately at Princeton, is an unselfish, explosive player always in control. In 2013, as a rising junior, Qalea Ismail was invited to Colorado Springs, Colo., for the USA U16 national team tryouts. Though Qalea Ismail didn't make the team, she returned to Patterson Mill an improved player because of the experience.
Last season, she led the Huskies to wins against Walkersville and Calvert for Patterson Mill's first state title, ending Calvert's three-year hold on the Class 2A crown. This year, Qalea Ismail, a guard, was dominant in leading the Huskies back to the state semifinals for the fourth straight year, beating Western Tech, 60-44, during the semifinals March 12 to set up the showdown with Oakdale.
"We are certainly blessed to have talent around Qalea and Sam," Holly Ismail said. "Everybody contributes on this team, but they've been here four times. That experience is huge in an arena like this."
Qalea Ismail's two brothers, Qadry, Jr. and Qadir, were waiting patiently courtside at SECU Arena March 14, as Patterson Mill arrived 45 minutes later for its showdown with Oakdale.
The Bears jumped out to a six-point lead midway through the first quarter behind junior Cameron Pitts and 6-foot senior Liz Moorman. But it didn't take long for the 6-foot-1 Qalea Ismail to take control of the game for Patterson Mill.
Qalea Ismail keyed a 13-1 run at the end of the first quarter to take control of the before scoring eight of Patterson Mill's first 10 points of the third quarter. Qalea Ismail finished with a game-high 26 points to go along nine rebounds, three assists and one steal.
"It's amazing," Holly Ismail said. "I've coached her since she was a little itty-bitty 5-year-old, and moments like these, I can look back and literally remember our first rec team and winning the championship and how exciting that was. Moments like this, you look back on that journey."
Herman has had a hand during those wins as well. A 5-foot-8 point guard, Herman is the perfect complement to Qalea Ismail. During Patterson Mill's semifinal win against Western Tech, Herman hit three 3-pointers during the first quarter to help the Huskies build a 21-0 lead.
During the win against Oakdale, Herman personified what Holly Ismail said has been one of the keys to Patterson Mill's success the last four years: unselfish team play.
"The expectations this year are what they are," Holly Ismail said. "I told the girls the things on the outside really don't matter -- know that this is your basketball family, and that's what's important. We've played some really, really good teams this year. We've won some. We've lost some. And I think they've done a really good job of focusing on their team."
Like Herman and Qalea Ismail, Milford Mill's Dionna White is one of the area's top players. And White had one of her best performances of the season during the Class 3A state championship game against Urbana, scoring 25 points to lead the Millers past the Hawks, 74-70.
It was the Millers' second straight state championship and third under head coach DeToiya McAliley. A 1993 Milford Mill graduate, McAliley took over for her former head coach and mentor Pam Wright 18 years ago and has kept the Millers among the state's best teams. Thanks in part to the play of White, senior Deja McKenzie (21 points) and junior Kierra Jackson (10 points), the Millers are once again state champions.
The Millers had lost just one game since the start of January, suffering a 71-59 defeat to IAAM A Conference power Roland Park Country at Milford Mill Feb. 7. For most of that game, the Millers matched the Reds stride for stride before Roland Park pulled away late during the fourth quarter.
McAliley said after that game she was hoping her reason for playing the Reds would pay dividends during the state tournament.
"We have a young team, and some of them don't have as much experience as Roland Park," McAliley said March 7. "We can learn from this. We have to learn from this to prepare for the counties, regions and states.
And that's what happened, as White once again etched her name in the Milford Mill record book, joining Chelsea and Candyce Jeter, Shawna Scott and Mandy Clark as one of the best players in Milford Mill history.
White, who will play collegiately at Georgetown, scored 24 points during a 61-46 semifinal win against Westlake March 12. In addition to her team-best 25 points against Urbana, she also added 11 rebounds, six assists and eight steals.
Trailing by as many as nine points during the first half, the Millers turned to White to bring them back. She delivered, accounting for 11 straight points with an assist or made basket to turn a 33-24 deficit into a 35-33 lead late during the second quarter.