When Mike Wolford took over the A.L. Brown girls’ basketball program two years ago, he immediately wanted to put his own stamp on the program.While Wolford had been a part of the Brown girls team in multiple roles – as a varsity assistant and junior varsity coach – he knew that the Wonders needed to change, and that the process wouldn’t be easy.“The team we inherited definitely had some solid players and wasn’t without talent; but what we did need was an attitude change,” Wolford said. “That all started in the weight room, in summer camps and even in practice. We wanted to set a tone that we were going to be very committed.”Wolford’s team played hard last year, despite losing four of its top six players to injury by season’s end – including All-South Piedmont Conference point guard Aaliyah Spears.The senior has torn her ACL in both knees in the past calendar year. She practiced earlier this month but has suffered some setbacks, putting her status up in the air for the rest of the year.But the Wonders still managed a 12-13 record, including 7-7 in league play. Brown finished in the top half of the conference and made the playoffs.Fast forward to this season: After a 1-4 start, Wolford and the Wonders start to find themselves, winning five of their next seven games.Brown also claimed three of its four SPC games (going into Hickory Ridge game Jan. 11).The Wonders played some of their best basketball during the holiday break in the CMC Northeast Holiday Classic at Cox Mill, beating Butler before close losses to Concord and Parkwood, which beat Brown on a 25-footer with six seconds left.“The effort and expectations of this team have gone way up,” Wolford said. “We’ve had some injuries and setbacks, but that hasn’t stopped us. We feel like we keep improving, and the results are starting to show on the court.”Wolford said the Wonders don’t do it with superstars. They have four starters who average about seven points per game to lead the team: seniors Bianca Moody, Raven Phifer and Megan Shue, as well as sophomore Aitana Grant.While all four girls make valuable contributions to the team, Shue may embody what this team is all about. The former JV most valuable player took a year off from basketball to become a Wonder cheerleader. But the 5-foot-4 guard came back last season to not only earn a starting spot, but to also earn the team’s most improved player award.Wolford said Shue’s all-around play and hard-nosed style has rubbed off on everyone.“The first minute of the first basketball game when I was cheering, I knew I had made a mistake, and all I wanted to do was get back on the court,” Shue said. “I had really looked up to Coach Wolford in the past. I was really excited when he took over the program.”Shue is just one Wolford’s players who turned themselves from role players into key starters. Moody and Phifer have also stepped up their games in the past year.Phifer, a four-year varsity player, recently broke out with 21 points in a 43-42 loss to Parkwood; Moody has been a consistent force around the basket, with a season-high 14 points in a win over South Rowan.Grant, who has replaced Spears at point guard, also fought through her own injury issues – she suffered a concussion earlier this season – to help set the tone with her tenacious defense.While Wolford expects a lot out of his starters, he goes 10-11 players deep on a regular basis. “I feel like we have a great mix of players who really work hard and play with a lot of energy,” Wolford said. “But we still make a lot of mistakes – like turnovers and missed free throws – that give a coach gray hairs. We want to be consistent.”While Wolford and his staff are happy with the Wonders’ progress, they are not satisfied. “Last year, we really weren’t a big factor in the postseason,” Wolford said. “This year, we hope to win a conference tournament game or more – and do the same thing in the playoffs. I think we have a lot to look forward to now and in the future.”
Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013
A.L. Brown Wonders show perseverance, improvement
A.L. Brown girls' basketball coach Mike Wolford, center, is in his second year leading the Wonders. The team has been improving after a 1-4 start. COURTESY OF ALLEN WOLFORD
A.L. Brown girls' basketball coach Mike Wolford says the biggest problem the team faced when he started was its attitude. Wolford now feels happy with the Wonders' progress but hopes a conference win will come in the future. COURTESY OF ALLEN WOLFORD
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jay? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.
Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email email@example.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.Read moreRead less