Reload. That’s been the word associated with St. Frances Academy’s and Arundel High’s girls’ basketball program the last decade. When the perennial area powerhouses took to the floor for the season opener Monday evening, another word came to mind.
Reshaping. Hit hard by graduation, the Wildcats and Panthers find themselves in a major transition. The process got off to a positive start for No. 7 St. Frances which pulled away from No. 14 Arundel, 49-34, in Odenton.
Sophomore center Infiniti Alston and freshman guard Cyndi Cole each led St. Frances (1-0 overall) with 12 points, and sophomore guard Tyshell King added 11. Tiffany Grant scored a game-high 19 points for Arundel (0-1).
The east Baltimore school outscored the Wildcats, 27-17, in the second half to take the latest installment of the yearly non-league battle. Last season, Arundel won its third Class 4A state title since 2000 while St. Frances claimed the IAAM A crown for the seventh time in the past eight seasons.
A championship run is the farthest thing from the minds of Arundel coach Lee Rogers and Jerome Shelton of St. Frances. Shelton viewed Monday as a small step in a long journey.
“We’re trying to develop some synergy and some shared experiences together,” said Shelton. “I was pleased with the effort. Our rebounding picked up in the second half as well as our defense, we got out into transition and get some baskets that gave us a little separation.”
King said there’s much room for improvement. But the Panthers’ captain is excited about the team’s new position.
“I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people this year,” said King. “Right now, everybody’s sleeping on us because we’re young.”
All but four St. Frances’ 49 points Monday came from underclassmen. King along with Cole, the first freshman to start for Shelton and Alston, a 6-foot-2 transfer from Western combined to score all 16 fourth quarter points for the Panthers.
Sophomore Daja Belt’s five points along with Alston’s four helped a 22-17 halftime lead into a 33-22 advantage for St. Frances heading into the final eight minutes.
Arundel closed to within 37-30 after a three-pointer by Grant, who’s headed to Farleigh Dickinson University. Cole converted a layup and King followed with a transition, pushing the Panthers’ margin to 41-31 with 2 minutes, 22 seconds left in regulation.
“We’re not where we’re going to be in January and February,” said Shelton. “I expect to be a much better team. It is what it is.”