Spider aims to close career with 'four-peat'

Jhemelia Edwards has been a big part of the success Concord has seen in the past four years.

The senior helped the Lady Spiders to a 3A state title in 2008, her freshman season, while also leading the way to three South Piedmont Conference titles so far in her career. The 5-foot-6 guard has done that by contributing a little bit of everything - points, assists, rebounds and steals - consistently every night.

"Whatever we need, she's going to give us," said Concord coach Angela Morton. "We can count on her to deliver."

Against Jay M. Robinson, one of the Spiders' top competitors for an SPC crown, Edwards only had three points, but she helped in other ways, recording 10 assists and 10 rebounds that night to lead her team to a crucial win.

That versatility is what has allowed Edwards to separate herself from the competition. Her mentality could also have something to do with that.

"I just get out there and play," said Edwards. "I don't feel nervous at big games, even though everybody's coming for me. I just play like there's no tomorrow every night."

She leads the Spiders in points, averaging 13, and in assists, dishing out seven per contest. She's also second in rebounds, with seven a game, while also averaging three steals, another team high.

"I feel like I've been playing way better than I have in past years," said Edwards, explaining that adding a pull-up jumpshot to her repertoire has opened up the game for her. "I'm getting more confidence in shooting the ball and believing that I can help my team win."

That confidence may credit her eight 3-pointer performance against Cox Mill earlier this month, which broke a 1999 Spider record held by Chel Sumlin, who had seven in a game.

Morton said she knew Edwards was known for being a prolific 3-point shooter coming out of middle school, but she admits her star player has matured into much more than that. That maturity has also translated off the court.

"She's just a wonderful person, a great student," said Morton. "She's become a wonderful teammate."

Morton admits her relationship with Edwards didn't get off to a great start, as her high expectations clashed with Edwards' strong will. But that has changed.

"We have a tremendous amount of respect for each other," said Morton. "When I look into her eyes, I know I have a kid on the floor that is on the same page as me - strategy wise, attitude wise."

That relationship has been important for a team that got off to a rough start this season.

The Lady Spiders (8-6, 6-0 in the SPC through Jan. 21) struggled to win in a tough non-conference schedule, which ranked as the second toughest in 3A in the state. Four of the team's six losses were to teams ranked in the top five of the Observer's Sweet 16 rankings, losing to No.2 Salisbury, No.3 Berry and to No. 5 Hopewell twice.

That start, although not common in Concord, doesn't worry Morton.

"Most programs wouldn't feel like they had to justify six losses, but at Concord that does alarm some people," she said. "It certainly doesn't alarm me and I sense that it doesn't alarm our kids. They know those games will pay off in the long-run."

Morton thinks having been tested in big games is already allowing her team to reap the benefits. She mentioned the Robinson and Hickory Ridge games as examples, pointing out the way her team has been able to take command.

"You could just sense we were going to hold on to our lead and that we knew what we were doing," said Morton. "That's comforting as a coach."

Concord's start in the SPC has the team excited, but Edwards knows they'll have to face tough competition if she and her classmates will finish their Spider careers with a "four-peat" - four SPC titles in as many years.

"We're still the target - no matter where we go, no matter who we're playing," said Edwards.

She added that winning that fourth conference championship is the main focus for now, but that she'd like the Spiders to make it past the sectional championship round, where the Spiders lost to Charlotte Catholic 66-63 last season.

For Edwards, winning a second state title in her high school career would be a dream come true.

"The seniors want to get back to where we were our freshman year," she said.