Four years ago, Alyssa Thomas saw the jerseys of the best players in the University of Maryland's basketball history hanging in the rafters of the Comcast Center. Thomas' No. 25 has now joined them.
Thomas, whose number was raised after Maryland's final regular-season game March 2, was named the Atlantic Coast Conference's Player of the Year for the third consecutive season and is closing in on her third straight All-America honor. A 6-foot-2 forward, Thomas paced the Terrapins to a 24-5 overall mark and 12-4 ACC record during the regular season.
After a March 7 loss to North Carolina during the ACC tournament quarterfinals, Thomas was leading her team in scoring (18.9 points per game), rebounding (10.8), assists (4.3) and steals (1.6). As of March 9, Thomas' four triple-doubles led the nation, and her 24 double-doubles topped the ACC.
She has a chance to become the most prolific scorer and rebounder in the 43-year history of the Terrapin women's basketball program. Thomas passed former Maryland great Crystal Langhorne in points (2,258) and ranked second to Langhorne in rebounds (1,178) after the ACC tournament. A native of Harrisburg, Pa., Thomas entered the NCAA tournament needing 52 rebounds to establish the all-time women's school record, and 12 points to pass Juan Dixon's overall scoring standard of 2,269 points.
"Her versatility is what separates her," said Maryland coach Brenda Frese, who has coached six of the players whose numbers are hanging in the rafters. "Marissa Coleman had many of those same abilities, but Alyssa makes triple-doubles look routine."
As Thomas works to get Maryland deep into the NCAA tournament, her jersey number hangs alongside those of Langhorne, Coleman, Tara Heiss, Vicky Bullett, Jasmina Perazic, Shay Doron, Laura Harper and Kristi Toliver.
"I'm honored to be mentioned in the same sentence with those players," Thomas said. "They were truly great, and I wanted to follow in their footsteps."
At the end of the 2013-14 college basketball season, several special players from local schools will conclude their collegiate careers.
At Towson, forward Jerrelle Benimon and guard Tanisha McTiller are two of the finest players in school history. During his two years at Towson, Benimon has helped resurrect a downtrodden program. Benimon led the Tigers to a 22-9 regular-season 2013-14 record and a 13-3 mark and second-place finish in the Colonial Athletic Association.
Coach Pat Skerry's club increased its school-record total of single-season victories at the Division I level to 23 with a win against James Madison March 8 during the CAA quarterfinals. After a semifinal loss to William & Mary March 9, Benimon, a Georgetown transfer, was pacing the team in scoring (18.9 points per game), rebounds (11.5) and assists (3.6). Benimon's 21 double-doubles led the nation as of March 9, and he could earn All-America honors.
McTiller will leave Towson as the No. 2 scorer in the school's women's basketball history. Entering the CAA tournament, McTiller had totaled 1,569 career points. The Tigers finished the regular season 13-16 overall and 7-9 in the CAA, thanks in part to McTiller's 18.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game.
Justin Black of Morgan State and Sydney Henderson of Mount St. Mary's will also be remembered as two of their schools' finest players. Black ranked 13th among all-time Morgan State scorers with 1,319 career points as of March 12. A senior guard, Black has been a catalyst for the Bears, who were 13-15 overall and 11-5 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference at the end of the regular season. His team-leading 18.5 points and 2.9 assists per game as of March 12 had kept Morgan in the running for a league championship and an NCAA tournament berth.
Henderson has been indispensable for Mount St. Mary's. A senior guard, she led the Mountaineers to their best regular-season finish in the Northeast Conference in 13 years, as coach Bryan Whitten's team finished 18-12 overall and 13-5 during league play. Henderson, the Mountaineers' leader in scoring (17.3 points per game as of March 11), rebounding (5.1) and steals (1.8), had 1,462 career points as of March 11, which put her in eighth place in school history.
The Coppin State women's team benefited from the contributions of two steady seniors. The Eagles, who finished the regular season 15-13 overall and 12-4 during conference play, earned the third seed in the MEAC tournament largely because of the play of senior forwards Kyra Coleman and Larrisa Carter.
Coleman averaged 16.9 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.4 steals per game as of March 12. Carter, who on Feb. 19 became the 14th women's player in school history to score 1,000 career points, contributed 13.4 points and a team-leading 8.3 rebounds per game as of March 12.
D-III Tournament Time
The Johns Hopkins men's basketball team entered the Centennial Conference tournament as the third seed. The Blue Jays left as league champions.
A strong second-half comeback March 1 against top-seeded Dickinson helped the Blue Jays secure their first Centennial Conference championship and NCAA tournament berth since the 2006-07 campaign. The Blue Jays finished the season with a 17-11 record after their March 7 NCAA first-round loss to host Virginia Wesleyan.
Head coach Bill Nelson got strong performances from several upperclassmen, such as junior guard Jimmy Hammer (13.8 points per game) and junior forward George Bugarinovic, who averaged 12.4 points and a team-leading 6.8 rebounds per game. Senior forward Connor McIntyre (60 blocked shots) was a defensive force, and sophomore guard Gene Williams (10.0 points per game) enjoyed a breakthrough season.
"They are two special players," Nelson said of Hammer and Bugarinovic. "They do much more than score. Both players defend, and that's been a big key for us. Jimmy is one of the best 3-point shooters in the region, yet he held Dickinson's top player scoreless.
"George missed most of the semifinal with foul trouble, then scored 18 points during the championship game and earned the tournament MVP award. They are real leaders and very unselfish."
It's an unusual occurrence when two coaches from the same school receive end-of-season recognition. But Stevenson's Gary Stewart and Jackie Boswell pulled off that rare double, earning Coach of the Year honors from the Commonwealth Conference.
During his third year as the Mustangs' head men's coach, Stewart guided Stevenson to a 21-8 record, the regular-season Commonwealth championship and the Eastern College Athletic Conference Southeast Championship.
After a 7-16 campaign during the 2012-13 season, Boswell turned the Stevenson women's program around. The Mustangs posted a 14-14 overall record and went 10-6 during the regular season in the Commonwealth, good for a fourth-place finish in the 10-team league.
The leadership of Stewart and Boswell propelled their teams to the ECAC Southeast tournament, the first postseason appearances for either Stevenson team since the 2006-07 campaign.
After leading the McDaniel College men's basketball team to a school record-tying 18 wins and the program's first postseason victory in 53 years, Green Terror head man Kevin Curley was named the Centennial Conference's Coach of the Year. Curley also won the award during the 2009-09 season.
LaGuerre A Good Worker
The St. Mary's College of Maryland men's basketball team didn't receive an NCAA tournament bid, but one of its players will still be going to the Final Four.
From April 3-7, Nick LaGuerre will be in North Texas along with the other members of the NABC Allstate Good Works Team. A Baltimore native and Lansdowne High graduate, LaGuerre was one of 10 men's basketball players from all NCAA divisions and the NAIA that the National Association of Basketball Coaches honored for their dedication to community service.
LaGuerre volunteers with the FLOW Mentoring Program in the St. Mary's County public schools. As a mentor, LaGuerre encourages students to pay attention in school and get good grades. He tells the children they can achieve any goal, and also stresses the importance of overcoming obstacles in their lives.
That message hits close to home for LaGuerre, he said. At the beginning of his senior year at Lansdowne, he was diagnosed with Type I diabetes (juvenile diabetes). LaGuerre said he intended to take his personal message to a wider audience than the St. Mary's County school kids he had already visited.
"I want to branch out and do more diabetes talks, specifically with people who have it," he said. "I really think that would have a direct impact on someone's life."
While at the Final Four, LaGuerre and the rest of the NABC Good Works Team will participate in a community service project.
"I'm really excited, and a little nervous," said LaGuerre, who repeated as a first-team All-Capital Athletic Conference choice and led St. Mary's to a 19-8 record. "I'm not a big fan of planes, but the chance to go to Dallas and do good things certainly outweighs the fear."
Maryland, My Maryland
It was a successful first month of the men's lacrosse season for three state teams. Maryland, Johns Hopkins and Loyola were the top three teams in the March 10 USILA national poll.
Following victories against then-No. 2 Syracuse and then-No. 1 defending champion Duke, coach John Tillman's Maryland squad ascended to the top spot.
The Blue Jays were tied for second place and had a 5-0 record as of March 14 after beating 2013 NCAA tournament teams Ohio State, Towson and Princeton.
Loyola suffered a tough overtime loss during its opener at Virginia. But the Greyhounds, tied for second with Johns Hopkins, rebounded with wins against Penn State, Towson, Holy Cross, Lehigh and Duke.
Could all three teams reach the NCAA Final Four, scheduled for May 24 and 26 at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium? It's too early to tell, but two matchups among these squads should have a bearing on the NCAA tournament seedings.
Maryland will visit Johns Hopkins April 12, and the Blue Jays and Greyhounds will meet at Loyola's Ridley Athletic Complex May 3.
In Division III, defending NCAA titlist Stevenson and perennial powerhouse Salisbury are also striving to play on championship weekend in Baltimore. Stevenson, 3-1 and ranked fifth nationally as of March 10, split a pair of overtime decisions against York College and top-ranked RIT during its first two games before posting wins against Western New England and Albright. Salisbury, a national semifinalist in 2013, jumped to a 6-0 start and No. 3 ranking as of March 10, including an overtime win at nationally ranked Lynchburg.
Washington College will press its in-state competitors. The Shoremen, who beat Salisbury in 2013 and gave Stevenson all it could handle during the NCAA tournament, were 4-0 as of March 14 and ranked seventh in the March 10 USILA Division III poll. Washington will play at Salisbury March 18 for another installment of the War on the Shore.
In women's Division I lacrosse, five state teams were ranked in the March 10 IWLCA national poll. Third-ranked Maryland won its first eight games, including road victories against Penn State, Duke and Syracuse. Coach Cathy Reese's team is a solid contender for the NCAA Final Four, which will be held at Towson's Johnny Unitas Stadium May 23 and 25. Loyola was ranked 16th, while Towson was No. 17. Navy held the 19th spot.
Johns Hopkins has been one of the biggest surprises in women's lacrosse. The Blue Jays were tied for 14th and had a 7-0 record as of March 11, with in-state wins against Loyola and Towson. Head coach Janine Tucker is getting the most out of a lineup led by senior attacker Taylor D'Amore, who paced the Blue Jays with 22 goals and 16 assists as of March 11.
College basketball is a game of long-standing rivalries, and the one between Loyola and Mount St. Mary's is one of the best. The two teams have squared off 169 times since the series began during the 1909-10 campaign.
Two of the best players in the history of that rivalry, Jim Lacy of Loyola and Dick Talley of Mount St. Mary's, passed away Feb. 15.
Lacy, who played before the advent of the 3-point shot, remains the leading scorer in Loyola men's basketball history. A Baltimore native, he was the first player in NCAA annals to break the 2,000-point mark, totaling 2,199 points during his four seasons at Loyola (1943-44, 1946-47, 1947-48, 1948-49). He was the nation's leading scorer during the 1946-47 season at 20.8 points per game.
Talley was the captain of the Mountaineers' 1961-62 national championship team. Talley, who finished his career with 1,390 points, scored a team-high 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds to lead the Mount to a 58-57 overtime victory against Sacramento State during the 1962 NCAA College Division title game.