Hickory Ridge's Jordan Strode hopes to keep up her high-scoring pace to turn a young Ragin' Bulls team into South Piedmont Conference contenders.
The 5-8 senior is quiet and reserved, shunning the attention that comes with being a standout basketball player. But that all changes on the court.
"She saves it all for playing basketball," said Ragin' Bulls coach Jessica Kulp. "She's very aggressive."
That showed as she averaged 16 points per game last year and led her team in assists, averaging more than four per game.
Strode can score by attacking the basket off the dribble or by pulling up consistently for a mid-range shot. But the all-conference guard takes as much pride in dishing the ball to her teammates, driving and passing the ball for open shots.
"I try to get my players involved," said Strode.
Kulp said that relentless unselfishness is another of Strode's strengths.
"She knows that if she can't get other people involved, we - as a team - aren't going to be very successful," said Kulp.
But Strode's greatest value to the team, Kulp said, is her "quiet leadership."
"She doesn't have to yell a lot or be intimidating, because she can do it by example," the coach said.
Strode admitted she learned a lot by looking up to older players early in her high school career. That's not the only thing she attributes to her four years as a Hickory Ridge varsity starter.
"I've improved a lot in communicating more, defending more and just being smarter with the ball," said Strode.
The 18-year-old, who has been playing basketball since she was 5, said she's worked tirelessly to become a better shooter in the offseason, even after she shot a respectable 43 percent from the floor last season.
She said she put up at least 200 shots several times a week, hoping to improve. She admitted she still needs work in her long-range shooting.
The self-described gym rat also said, having hit the weight room regularly in the offseason, she's gotten stronger and faster.
"It's all because of the love of the game," she said. "I've always loved to keep getting better."
Strode lost some of her supporting cast from last year's team, including guard Monique Robson and her 12.6 points per game, so the Lady Bulls have a long way to go.
With the extra pressure Strode attracts, including many double teams, Kulp said, her teammates will have to stand up and make open shots for the team to be competitive.
"We have to find somebody else who can not necessarily score 20 or 25 points a game, but somebody who can be consistent and supplement what Jordan's going to do for us," said Kulp.
Strode has been impressed by senior forward Jenna Cachine, a fellow captain, as well as sophomore forward Kiana Davis and junior point guard Kionne Ford. Tia Evans, a sophomore, also should contribute after being pulled up from junior varsity.
Strode has high goals for Hickory Ridge, which include defeating SPC powers Jay M. Robinson and Concord this season.
"We definitely want to win the conference," said Strode, explaining that it's important to her to help Hickory Ridge win its first girls basketball title in the South Piedmont.
Kulp knows the conference will be competitive again. Even though the Spiders and the Bulldogs lost key players, coaches Angela Morton and Lin Smithson will have their respective teams ready to play. A.L. Brown and Northwest Cabarrus also should be competitive.
Kulp said she hopes her team, which finished second in the South Piedmont last year, will be able to return to the playoffs and make it farther than last year's squad, which got knocked out in the first round. She admitted she has set the bar high for her team, trying to motivate her players.
Strode, who signed to continue her basketball career at Saint Joseph's earlier this month, doesn't need the extra push.
"I want to win," she said.