Although Kiana Davis is only a sophomore, the Hickory Ridge forward knew at the beginning of the season that she would have to contribute for her young team to succeed.
After the Ragin' Bulls lost Monique Robson and Taheera Darnley to graduation from last year's squad, Davis was expected to fill in.
"In the beginning it was really hard, because I think me and my coaching staff wanted her to act like a senior in a sophomore's body," said Hickory Ridge coach Jessica Kulp. "We wanted her to finish and perform and do all these things, but in the end we just needed to let her feel it out."
Davis said it took some time to get adjusted to her larger role for the Bulls, but around winter break everything began to click.
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Scoring a then-career-high 24 points against Queen's Grant during the Hardwood Classic at Bojangles' Coliseum in Charlotte, got Davis going.
"That made me realize that if I could do that one time, I could do it again," said Davis.
Her newfound confidence was key in the Bulls' turning around a season they had started 1-5 - including a season-opening 52-point loss to Carson - going into South Piedmont Conference play.
"That was a huge turning point for her as a player and for the team as a whole," said Kulp.
Davis has grown into the second-leading scorer for the Ragin' Bulls, behind returning all-conference senior Jordan Strode. Davis set a new career high when she had a 28-point game against Concord in early January. She has averaged a double-double, averaging 11 points and 10 rebounds per game this season.
"She's really grown a lot since last year," said Kulp. "She's really come into her own, giving Jordan an outlet, being a threat on the offensive end, (and) especially rebounding wise."
Although at 5-7 Davis is undersized for her power forward role, the 15-year-old not only leads her team but also is one of the top rebounders in the conference.
"That's her bread and butter," said Kulp. "She knows that's how she's going to score."
The coach said Davis gets most of her points on put-backs, making easy layups after grabbing offensive rebounds on the low block.
Defensively, Kulp said Davis is aggressive when guarding on the ball and also has the ability to get steals and drive it the entire length of the court for a layup.
Even though Davis has more than doubled the 4.8 points per game average she had as a bench player last season, she admitted she still has work to do. Especially important are keeping her intensity on both ends of the court and improving her shooting, and she knows she may have to switch to more of a guard role after this year's senior class departs.
Davis credits some of her improvement to help from her older brother, Davidson Day starting point guard Rashun Davis, who often goes to the gym with her to work on her basketball skills.
"He's been helping me out a lot. ... He's taught me to have confidence in my shot," she said, "and with free throws. I was horrible at free throws."
Kulp has noticed Rashun's increased involvement in Kiana's game.
"He sees a lot of potential in her," said Kulp. "I think he really wants to see her succeed."
After the Ragin' Bulls' tough start, the team has surprised many in the conference. With a 15-8 record, including a 12-1 conference mark, Hickory Ridge played Jay M. Robinson last Friday for the conference regular-season championship.
Kulp credits a renewed focus on defense and on playing to the team's strengths - at an up-tempo pace and allowing Strode to handle the ball and find open teammates like Davis for easy shots - for its improvement.
Although Hickory Ridge has high aspirations in the SPC tournament and 3A playoffs, Kulp sees a bright future ahead with Davis, fellow sophomore Tia Evans and a few freshmen who have contributed this season and have a couple of years left on the team.
Kulp said the experience gained this season - both the highs and the lows - should help in the future.
"That will be invaluable to them," she said. "They know what they have to do to win and what it feels like not to be in that position."
But for now, the focus is still on the last few weeks of the season and sending off Strode and fellow seniors Jenna Cachine and Shaun Copeland on a good note.
"We're hoping we can take the journey as far as it can go," said Kulp. "I don't think there's anything they think they can't do. We've beaten teams that everyone said there's no way we could ever beat: the J.M.'s (Robinson), the Concords."
Davis said she's confident in the Ragin' Bulls.
"I have faith on my coach. I have faith in us," said Davis. "We're going to do good."