For Hickory Ridge senior Monique Robson, the improvement she has shown from last year started with her attitude.
Admitting she often made poor judgments when things didn't go her way, Robson says she realized that being a senior carried a lot of responsibility.
"I felt like I had to step up my game," she said. "People were looking up to me."
Emerging from her role as a passive playmaker, Robson is now one of the top scoring Ragin' Bulls. Through 21 games, she was averaging 11.8 points per game and was leading the team with her 35 percent shooting from 3-point range.
A native of Ohio, Robson has played for Hickory Ridge for only two seasons. She says she split time between the varsity and junior varsity teams for her Cleveland high school during her freshman year.
Robson's family moved to Cabarrus County as basketball season was getting underway in her sophomore year. As a result, she missed an entire season, letting her slip out of basketball-playing shape.
Her shooting touch escaped her too, Robson said, so making the Bulls as a junior came as a sigh of relief.
"When I came down here and started playing basketball... things were kind of sketchy," said Robson. "I didn't know how they were going to feel about me. When I tried out and made the team, it was like another home for me."
Robson earned a starting guard spot but was on the fringe of Hickory Ridge's point production. She was mostly a passer, but had flashes of scoring potential with an occasional burst of 8 or 10 points a game.
Some difficult moments also slowed her down. Speaking about the past, Robson said, "If things don't go my way I'll get mad and I just want to stop."
Solid play by Robson helped the Bulls have a successful post-season last year, as they reached the third round of the state playoffs for the first time.
Through the rocky junior season, Robson found a friend in Jordan Strode, now a top-scoring junior forward on the team. During the off-season, they emerged as the team's leaders, filling a void left with the graduation of a couple of key senior players.
Coach Jessica Kulp commended Robson's off-season commitment, adding that she has "improved tremendously." Robson especially worked on her one-on-one moves and driving to the basket.
Playing mostly shooting guard and a little at the point, Robson and Strode have developed a strong inside-outside duo.
"Off the court, me and her are a bunch of goofballs," said Robson. "We're always laughing, playing around, telling secrets, doing what best friends do.
"On the court, we're serious. We communicate with our eyes. She knows what I'm thinking and I know what she's thinking. On the court, it's like we're one."
With Strode enjoying a magnificent season, Kulp says opponents are commonly double-teaming her. Consequently, Strode's teammates are benefiting from the diversion.
Robson's biggest game this season was Jan. 28 against Mount Pleasant, who she scored a game-high 27 points against. In a recent game against rival Robinson, she was at her best when Strode missed part of the second half because of foul trouble.
Battling her own foul affliction, Robson popped in 19 points as the Bulls captured a 70-67 home win. Her 3-pointer with one minute, 39 seconds remaining helped keep Robinson at bay.
Robson says she's hoping to play in college, but even if she doesn't, she's happy about her success.
"I've overcome a lot," she said. "I've become a better person with this team. I've become a smarter person with this team."