Nobody knows where team chemistry comes from in any sport or on any level. It’s mystifying but so influential. The Baltimore Ravens often pointed to it as a big reason why they went 14-2 and won the AFC North in 2019.
The team genuinely liked and cared about each other. It was a locker room filled with support, not tension and backbiting. Teams that get along better do better, but nobody knows exactly how to find team chemistry.
Howard girls’ basketball coach Scott Robinson doesn’t have the answer for the vexing question, either. But he does know that his Lions are fortunate to be a team that’s loaded with good chemistry and players who support each other.
That’s a big reason they began the season on a 19-0 run, believed to be a first at Howard. Robinson said he delights in coaching this team because of how well the players have meshed with one another.
“I kept 15 girls, and they all get along and have accepted their roles,” Robinson said. “We’ve had so many girls come in and help us. It’s a really fun group to coach.”
The Lions returned four starters from last year’s 19-4 team that lost to Western High School (Baltimore City) in a Class 4A section final. Junior guard Emily Durkee agreed with her coach about how well the team gets along and works together.
“It’s just the chemistry that we have,” Durkee said. “We know when to have fun, [but] when it’s game time, we know when to lock in.”
Durkee said since several of the players have played a few seasons together, it’s almost like they’ve grown together. The starting five features three seniors — Anii Harris, Marisa Sanchez-Henry and Camille Malagar, all of whom will be playing in college next year — plus Durkee and sophomore center Gabby Scott, and simply put, they know each other.
And that’s been clear on a regular basis during games.
“We’ve had time to build up that chemistry,” Durkee said. “Everyone just supports everyone. We just have a great bunch. It just builds our energy so much.”
Harris, who was averaging 15.1 points per game through 17 games, is headed to Salem State next year. Sanchez-Henry, the team’s point guard, was averaging 11.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 3.0 steals per game and is going to Wagner. Malagar (7.7 points) is headed to Christopher Newport. Scott (9.3 points and 6.5 rebounds) has also helped out, while Durkee (4.7 points) has been the team’s top threat from long range, hitting nearly 40 percent of her 3-point attempts.
Freshman guard Samiyah Nasior has provided the Lions with solid minutes off the bench. Gabby Kennerly returned in early February after missing 10 months with a torn ACL.
Robinson starts four guards, which allows the Lions to move the ball effectively and find the open shot, though they don’t look to turn games into track meets.
“I think the key is that we have four guards that start, and even our center plays guard for her AAU team,” Robinson said. “We can really handle the ball and pass the ball, and we have pretty good team speed.”
The Lions’ approach also helps them handle pressure defense when opponents try to disrupt their rhythm.
“We have a guard-heavy offense that can control the ball,” Robinson said. “It helps immensely. To this point, we’ve handled the press well and turned [it] into offense for us. Teams’ pressures haven’t really bothered us.”
Howard has been a formidable factor in its class, region and section for many years. The Lions made the state semifinals in Robinson’s first year (2011) and are now looking to make it back.
Howard started the 2016-17 season 17-0 and lost to Catonsville in a Class 4A region final, where a win would have earned the Lions a trip to the state final four. Howard again fell to Catonsville in the state playoffs in 2017-18, and the Lions lost to Western in that section game last year.
The toughest part for Howard has been stiff competition in the Class 4A East Region, with Old Mill (17-1 as of Feb. 10), Arundel (15-4) and Meade (15-4) also in that region. Getting out of that region this year will be a tough task, but the Lions are ready to face it.
Robinson, who won a state title with Mount Hebron in 2008 (Class 2A, 28-0), does not want his team to shy away from the challenges that lie ahead. The Class 4A tournament will begin in late February.
“It’s a good thing for the girls to know that we’re competing at the highest level,” Robinson said. “We’re going to embrace it. We think it’s great.”
The Lions will try to win their sixth Howard County title in the past seven years and Robinson’s first state title at the school. Howard captured its only state title in 1994. This is where the team chemistry could provide an extra edge for the Lions, who are trying not to look too far ahead.
“I don’t want them feeling pressure,” Robinson said. “I want them going one game at a time, and we’ll see how far we go.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Scott Robinson