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Champs on and off the court

(4/6) March 11, 2006 - two minutes left in the Maryland State Girls Basketball championship game at University of Maryland Baltimore County. Catoctin High School led by nearly 20 points, but Lady Cougar Becky Cuddahee still didn't think her team could win.

The Thurmont senior came off the court shaking her head and saying it wasn't going to happen. She had experienced the heartbreak of a last-second loss against Southside Academy last year.

The seconds ticked off. Although the Lady Cougars had scored an amazing 22 points in the fourth quarter compared to Southside's 9, when the final buzzer sounded. All the girls and even the coaches could do was stare at the scoreboard in disbelief.

They had soundly beaten (61-45) the team they had lost to in the last three seconds of the 2005 championship game. More importantly, the Lady Cougars were Catoctin High's first state championship team in 20 years and only the third in the school's history.

"I couldn't believe it," said senior Connie Cuddahee. "I didn't expect us to get by the regionals."

"Regionals?" replied Coach Amy Murray. "You didn't expect us to win our division."

Connie wasn't alone in her pessimism. Six seniors, including some of its strongest players, graduated last year. The remaining players didn't expect to have a strong season this year.

Yet, the girls developed their skills, worked together and filled the holes in their teams. Together, they finished the season with a 22-3 record.

Their win over their rival Boonsboro High was as much an emotional high the first time they did it this season as it was the third time.

Their game against Clear Spring High was a lesson in overconfidence that nearly cost them a win.

"If they can't play at our level, we can't allow ourselves to play at their level," said senior Monie Cuddahee of the lesson she learned.

The team nearly suffered defeat even before the championship game when sickness ravaged them.

"Eleven of 13 players were sick the week before the states," Murray said.

"And some of us weren't better until a week and a half after the states," added junior Ashley Metal.

Through it all, senior Kate Robinson always believed the season would end with a championship title.

"I knew from day one we could do it," she said.

She never let her faith waver and eventually as the number of winning games grew, everyone else joined her.

"It was a matter of gaining confidence little by little, over the season, until the fourth quarter when everything came together," said Murray.

It certainly wasn't the first quarter. Murray said whenever her team was able to score its typical 16-17 points in the first quarter of a game, they went on to win the game. The Lady Cougars only scored 14 points in the first quarter of the championship game.

But then came the team's 22 points in the fourth quarter. It was unprecedented, according to Murray.

Now, as many of the girls have moved onto spring sports and are thinking about college, they find themselves missing their time on the court.

"This is the first year I've actually missed practice," Becky said.

Besides teammates, they found friends this season, which will last longer than their fame as state champions.

"Our other teams are friends but not like this," Ashley said. "Even after the season, most of us still hang out together."

Kate says she hopes the team has started a winning trend for the school.

"We've broken the curse and now everybody's going to be winning now," Kate said.

Who's to say she's wrong? She called this season right.

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