Destiny Barrino knew more would be expected of her after the departure of key players on the North Mecklenburg girls' basketball team.
The sophomore, who stood out defensively on last year's squad, has responded with her intensity and by nearly doubling her scoring. She leads the Vikings with more than 11 points per game.
"After last year's seniors left, I thought, 'Man, everybody's going to be relying on me,' " said Barrino. "I knew I needed to step up. I knew what I had to do"
Coach Jennifer Baker said she can always count on Barrino to play hard.
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"She's not a finesse player, but she's going to outwork you on every play. ... That's the bottom line with her," said Baker, who's in her third year at the helm of the North Meck program. "She's very aggressive all the time."
That determination has also allowed Barrino to grab more than four rebounds and four steals a game.
Baker explained that what separates the 5-foot-6 Barrino, who has played all positions on the court for the Vikings this season, is her strength. That, she says, is also what's shaped Barrino into a defensive stopper.
"She punishes you on the defensive side of the ball," said Baker. "She forces you to be at your top game to score against her."
Barrino admits that she takes pride in her defense, which she adds is her focus in every game.
"I like defense better than offense some times because it's more of a challenge - having to guard somebody who's just trying to beat me," the 15-year-old said.
Barrino said playing showcase ball during the summer helped her improve her offensive skills, as she worked mainly on her shooting, her ball-handling and her ability to finish at the basket with either hand. Although she admits that there's still work to be done, she's satisfied with how her game is coming along.
So is Baker, who adds that she's also been happy with how Barrino's growing into a leader for her Vikings.
"She knows that if she sets the tone, everybody follows," Baker said.
Barrino said she learned to show the way while playing with the Vikings' top scorer last year, Tatum McKee, during the summer.
"She told me I couldn't give up on me and this team, to always keep my head up even if the team is down the whole time," Barrino said.
North Meck, which started the season 7-6 (1-3 in I-Meck play), has been hot-and-cold. Baker credits that to the team's inexperience, as the Vikings feature only one senior and seven underclassmen on their roster.
"We need to get more consistent because we've lost a lot of close games, games that we were winning and let slip through our fingers," said Baker.
Barrino, who says the team has shown improvement throughout the year, said the team has potential, using the team's 57-51 victory over Mallard Creek last week as an example of what the team can accomplish if they come out full-force each game.
"Everybody has to come in the game and do their part," said Barrino. "We have to win as a team."
Barrino has had help this year from Kelly Beasley, who's averaging nearly 10 points a game and put up 18 in the win against the Mavericks last week, as well as from Brianna Jones, Jasmine Bullock and Jaydah Hayden.
Baker said the way her team shares the ball makes the team somewhat tougher to stop.
"If you take one person away, I think we're versatile enough that somebody else is going to step up," she said.
Barrino hopes to continue doing whatever it takes for her team to win more games and compete for a spot in the postseason, even if her efforts aren't reflected in the stats book.
"Scoring doesn't matter to me," the 15-year-old said. "As long as I do what I'm supposed to for us to win, is the only thing that matters."
No matter how the rest of the year develops for the Vikings, Baker is excited to see Barrino continue to develop on the court.
"Her potential is unlimited," said Baker. "Once everything comes together for her, her game is just going to skyrocket."