Editor’s note: In this unprecedented, unexpected time with no games to watch, our staff of five reminisces about the best individual performances by one athlete they’ve covered during their time as News-Post sports reporters.
Before the Internet was on our desks let alone in our pockets, Frederick News-Post sportswriters compiled high school rosters by calling coaches on landline phones.
I was performing that very task when Linganore girls basketball coach Brian Matthews mentioned a freshman on his 1993-94 team.
Having never heard of this player, I asked him to spell her name. Matthews complied. Then, he told me I better get used to writing it.
I did. In fact, if I live to be 100 and forget how to spell my own name, I bet I’ll have no such trouble with the one Matthews spelled that day: Cara Consuegra.
Hounding defender. Dangerous outside shooter. Fearless slasher. Hard board-crasher. Alert distributor and rock-solid ball-handler. Consuegra, a natural point guard, possessed all those traits.
By her junior year, if not before, she was a difference-maker, helping the Lancers win 53 straight games and two state titles during her final two years in the program.
No single person produces such ridiculously successful stretches. But on Saturday, March 8, 1997, when Linganore’s streak appeared to be in serious jeopardy, Consuegra — a senior — turned in an unforgettable performance to help keep it going.
That day, I squeezed into South Carroll High School’s packed bleachers to watch the Class 3A West region girls basketball championship game between the Lancers and host Cavaliers.
Facing a South Carroll team they beat by just two points during a regular-season road game, the Lancers figured to need Consuegra more than ever. But this didn’t look like one of her finer days.
With 1 minute, 4 seconds left in the second quarter, Consuegra picked up her third foul and was benched. Worse yet, when she returned in the third quarter, she played tentatively.
South Carroll, a strong team, promptly pounced. Heading into the final minute of the third quarter, the Cavaliers enjoyed a 45-37 lead.
“I was in big-time foul trouble. I can’t remember many times in my career that I was in foul trouble,” Consuegra said during a phone interview last week. “I struggled in most of that game.”
Most of that game, yes, but not all of it — a distinction that must haunt anyone who pulled for South Carroll that day.
During a timeout taken when the Lancers still trailed by eight, Matthews screamed at his players, imploring them to get their heads in the game.
In a postgame interview, Consuegra mentioned that moment when asked about her team’s turnaround. Whatever funk she had been in soon vanished.
In the final minute of the third quarter, she nailed back-to-back 3-pointers. The second one, with a defender in her face, came in the final seconds, narrowing South Carroll’s lead to 45-43.
“[That] kind of jump-started us and jump-started me,” Consuegra said.
Twelve seconds into the fourth quarter, Consuegra hit a game-tying jumper. About a minute later, another Consuegra jumper put the Lancers in front for good.
By the time Consuegra hit a 3 midway through the fourth, the Lancers held a 10-point lead. She contributed 13 points to a game-changing 17-5 run, leading the Lancers to a 70-59 win.
What was shaping up as a rare lackluster day in Consuegra’s career turned out to be a historic one. She finished with 39 points, which would stand as a career-high, and 23 of them came after she got her third foul.
By the way, if my reporting was accurate, she finished with three fouls.
As Consuegra remembers it, her whole team played great in the fourth quarter. No argument here. But her will to win loomed large. From the stands, you could almost feel it.
After later helping the Lancers win their second straight state title, Consuegra played for Iowa University and the WNBA’s Utah Starzz. And she just completed her ninth season as UNC-Charlotte’s head coach.
I wondered if she and her Linganore teammates felt added pressure during the 1997 playoffs because of their long winning streak. Consuegra didn’t think so, thanks to the daily grind Matthews put the team through in practices.
“We worked so hard. He was so relentless in wanting us to be our best,” Consuegra said. “You got to games and they almost felt easier. [That’s] what the best coaches do.”
I’m just glad that coach taught me how to spell Consuegra’s name over 26 years ago. Heck, I’m still writing it.