Harris Road pair set sights on higher-level competition

The names Sydni Bickford and Kelsi Mahoney might not sound familiar now, but if you are a basketball fan, it's not out of the question that you might see them playing for a major university or in the WNBA in a few years.

Sydni and Kelsi are eighth-graders at Harris Road Middle School in Concord. They possess natural athletic talent that might take them all the way to the pros. They both explained to me how it all began.

"My basketball journey began when I was 4. I spent countless weekends sitting in the stands watching my older sister, Lacy, play basketball," said Sydni. "She was my inspiration. My dad and I would mark X's and O's in the cul-de-sac when I was shooting. X's were shots made and O's were misses. I would keep shooting until they all became X's."

Sydni and Kelsi also are playing on an Amateur Athletic Union team out of Carolina Courts in Indian Trail called the Carolina Rise; the team was the state runner-up last season.

"We represent Cabarrus, Mecklenburg and Union counties," Sydni said. "This team was hand-picked by our coach, coach Watts, through open tryouts.

"The level of commitment is important; to be great, you have to make concessions. Ours are getting up early every Saturday and driving to Carolina Courts for a two-hour practice.

"While our classmates are sleeping, watching TV, texting or 'Facebooking,' we are running up and down the court with weighted balls until our tongues hang out. My teammates have become like sisters to me, and we would do anything for each other."

Like Sydni, Kelsi also started playing her favorite sport at age 4.

"I ... got into playing competitive basketball when I was 9," Kelsi said. "I like the fast pace of the game. I have a passion for it and I've been successful at it.

"I also like watching the college games along with the NBA and WNBA. I go to a lot of UNCC girls' basketball games and high school games."

Sydni and Kelsi helped the Harris Road Middle School Patriots win their conference tournament championship game in overtime against Hickory Ridge Middle School. The team finished with an 11-2 record for the season.

Both girls have exciting plans for 2011.

"Starting this coming basketball season, the Rise will be playing in showcase tournaments," Kelsi said. "These are tournaments the college coaches go to so they can evaluate each player's talents and see if we can possibly be recruited for college scholarships."

But before they can attend college, they must get to high school. They have both ended their middle school basketball careers as champions and will be off to Jay M. Robinson High School in the fall in hopes of playing for the Bulldogs.

What an exciting future! The best of luck to both of them.