A season ago, the Montgomery College women's basketball had one of its best seasons in program history by winning the Region XX and District G championships before finishing fourth at the NJCAA Division III National Tournament in Minnesota.
But entering this winter, the Raptors were unsure if their success would continue because longtime coach Tarlouh Gasque, as usual, had to break in a set of new players. Montgomery College is a two-year junior college so the turnover rate on the roster is high.
“What we get really varies year to year,” Gasque said during an interview before practice earlier this month. “We play teams that can give scholarships and money, but we can't.
“So all of our success is based on getting players by word of mouth and recruiting. If you come here and perform in the classroom, I can usually place you in a four-year school.”
The Raptors' strong play has continued and they expect to challenge for a spot in the eight-team national tournament again. They are currently ranked No. 6 in the nation and own an 11-3 record. Most of the program's players have graduated from a high school in Montgomery or Prince George's County.
“In high school you have 4A, 3A, 2A and 1A,” Gasque said. “Some of the girls saw each other, but none really knew each other. … They all kind of just come together.”
Added Watkins Mill graduate and starter Jartu Toweh: “Most of the girls were familiar faces. I mean, I knew about everyone from seeing them, but didn't have a personal relationship.”
Freshman and John F. Kennedy High School graduate Desha Nourn has paced the Raptors by averaging a team-high 18.9 points per game and 30.7 minutes per contest. Toweh, Jameelah Thalley (Bethesda-Chevy Chase), Kapria Redparth (Takoma Academy) and Meghann Tilghman (Rockville) also start and all average at least nine points per game. Guard Angelica Ceccone (Walt Whitman) has been a key player off the bench.
The Raptors play an up-tempo style of basketball and are averaging 75.6 points per game.
“This year, we really have a lot of decent scorers. I actually don't think I've had a team that has had this much of a variety of girls that are capable,” Gasque said. “They've also bonded real well this year, which can be tough at a junior college. They're a team on and off the court.
“Every year is different though and that is what you have to expect if you coach at this level. We are still learning.”
Several of the student-athletes enrolled at Montgomery College in order to improve their skills and academics before attempting to play at a four-year school.
“It wasn't my initial plan to come here,” Nourn said. “The coaches here came to see me [at Kennedy]. … As long as I take care of things, hopefully I'll be able to continue playing.”
Added Toweh: “I didn't feel I was performing well enough to play [at a higher level] after graduating. No one was looking at me either so I am taking baby steps.”