Sophie Rossitch averaged about seven points a game last year as a freshman on the Charlotte Catholic basketball team, but she wasn't consistent. Some games she would score 14 points, sometimes none.
"Either my shot was on or it was off," she said.
Rossitch, 15, spent the summer working on her shot, trying to break bad habits she's had since she started playing basketball in elementary school. She complained to her coach at Catholic, Bobby Conrad, about how much she didn't like the new shooting style, but the change helped.
Now a sophomore starter for the Cougars, Rossitch leads Catholic with 13.7 points per game. She's also helped the Cougars overcome a 5-7 start to win six of their last nine games going into Friday's game against Berry.
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As a freshman, Rossitch was a sometimes starter that was mainly a shooter for Catholic. She wasn't asked to do too much last year with senior Ali Lane, now a freshman at Western Carolina, leading the team.
Lane "did some amazing things so a lot of times people were just waiting to see what she was going to do," said Conrad, who is in his fifth year as head coach of the Cougars. "Now I think players are starting to step up. They're starting to realize what they do well."
Conrad said Rossitch, 5-foot-7, is always one of the fastest players on the floor and she's aggressive on defense, going after the ball and going for steals. Sometimes she's too aggressive and often got into foul trouble early in the season.
"I think the biggest difference between this year and last year has been realizing how many things she can do," said Conrad. "She's our best on-ball defender. She's our fastest player in transition, she's good at getting to the rim. She does just so many things for us."
Rossitch has been forced to work harder on a young Cougar team that has eight sophomores, one freshman and just four seniors. Catholic made it to the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A regional semifinals two years ago but lost three Division I players from that team: Lane, Lauryn Kobiela, a sophomore at Colgate, and Shawn-Marie Heiliger, a freshman at Wagner.
Though this year's team returns six players that started at least one game last year, the Cougars have had to learn how to play without one "star" player. Rossitch has tried to fill that role.
"I used to depend on (Lane) a lot," Rossitch said. "Now I've taken a leadership role, I guess. It's been a change but I've gotten used to it and I'm starting to get better at it."
Rossitch has had help in the post from senior Onya Edwards (9.7 points, 6.2 rebounds per game) and from senior guard Taylor Brock (7 points per game). Fellow sophomore Rachael Hendershott averages 8.9 points per game and helps Rossitch in the backcourt.
The Cougars were 3-4 heading into the St. Pius holiday tournament in Atlanta. Catholic lost the first game but won the next two by a combined 66 points. Conrad said that was a turning point for the team.
"I think they really started to discover their role and realize they could be a lot more aggressive," he said.
He said that defense kept them in games earlier this season but after the holiday tournament the offense started to come together.
Since winter break, the Cougars' only losses have come to Berry and Harding, the top two teams in the ME-GA 7 conference and, according to NCPreps.com, the No. 6 and No. 10 ranked 3A teams in the state, respectively; Providence Day, a favorite to win the 3A private school title; and York Catholic in Pennsylvania, a team Conrad said could win a state championship.
Those losses gave the Cougars a chance to see how they fared against top competition.
"They realized they can play with those teams," said Conrad. "We were able to get stops and have success on the offensive end. I think they came out of it knowing that if things go right they can play with anybody."
Only two 3A teams make the state tournament from the ME-GA 7 and it will be hard for Catholic to get past Berry and Harding. But the Cougars have those eight sophomores.
Rossitch should continue to lead that group with her good shooting and aggressive play.
"Whether she's making shots or not, she's making a difference," said Conrad. "She plays with a passion because she hates to lose."