You would think that the Jay M. Robinson girls' basketball coach Lin Smithson would be happy that her team moved down from the tough ME-CA 7 4A conference to the all-Cabarrus County South Piedmont 3A conference.
You'd be wrong.
"We're not glad to be out of the 4A," said Smithson. She said she enjoys the county rivalries, but it's not competitive night in and night out like it was last year.
"I really believe we could have won that conference this year," she said. Robinson finished third last year behind state champion West Charlotte and a Mallard Creek team that went to the regional semifinals.
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With the way the Bulldogs are playing so far this season, you have to believe Smithson.
The Bulldogs are 11-0 and haven't really been challenged this year. Robinson has beaten opponents by an average of just over 25 points.
Robinson, ranked No. 7 in the Observer Sweet 16 poll, faced their first true test of the season Friday against the Hickory Ridge Ragin' Bulls, who were undefeated in conference play coming into the game.
Hickory Ridge trailed by 26 after three quarters, but Akysia Resper scored 23 points in the fourth quarter to bring the Bulls to within 10 with one minute left in the game.
The comeback fell short and the Bulldogs held on to win 68-57, improving to 6-0 in the conference.
The Bulldogs would have faced a much earlier test against Concord on Dec. 18, but a dusting of snow in the area postponed the game.
"We're ready to play them," said Smithson. But part of the coach is glad that the game got rescheduled. On the original date of the game, Concord's junior center Jatzmin Johnson was out with an injury.
"I want to play them with Johnson," she said. Smithson is billing this game as the biggest of the year, saying that anyone who has any interest in girls' basketball should be at that game.
The team is led by its two captains, guard Kelsee Cheek and forward Tabby Koerner. Cheek became the first girls' player in school history to score 1,000 points. And she's only a junior. Senior Koerner is close to becoming the second and could reach 1,000 by the end of this year, said Smithson.
"They're huge," said Smithson. But they're also unselfish.
"I have 10 people that can start any given night," she said.
The coach was quick to add that this is not a two-girl team.
She mentioned key contributors: Isabel Bernal and Rachel Lloyd give 100 percent effort, Chartea Peay plays great defense and 6-foot Carol Ann Trammell is a "beast in the lane," as is freshman Rachel Cook. Brittany Smith has played every spot on the floor, Brynn Clark adds a spark when she comes off the bench and Rachel Eklund has great hands.
"We play more to our capability," said Koerner of the team's success.
"We're just staying more focused this year," added Cheek.
Smithson said the real difference has come in the weight room. Trainer Brian Long developed a program specifically for female athletes that anyone was able to participate in over the summer. He also started a class during the school year geared toward weight training for the girls.
"They went in that weight room and worked their tails off," said Smithson. "I can't believe the difference it's made in those girls."
The Bulldogs hope to continue their strong play as the conference race really starts to heat up. Smithson is confident that her players have what it takes to go deep into the playoffs this year.
"We've got some very special players," she said. "We realize the potential we have and want to take advantage of it."