Ali Lane has loved basketball since she can remember.
The 5-foot-9 Charlotte Catholic senior guard has been living the game nearly since she could walk.
"Basketball has always been a big part of my life," Lane said. "I love watching it, playing it, practicing. I can't really imagine my life without basketball."
The Cougars and coach Bobby Conrad probably couldn't imagine life without Lane, either, as the senior has been a star since the day she stepped on campus.
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Lane, a four-year starter and three-time all-conference selection (now ME-GA 7, formerly Queen City conference), burst onto the scene her freshman year, averaging 10 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal per game in her first year as a varsity player. The Cougars went 22-7 that year, losing in the third round of the playoffs.
"She is definitely a gym rat," Conrad said. "She is willing to work hard on her own, in practice and in games. That has not only allowed her to improve a lot, but it has rubbed off on her teammates."
As a sophomore, Lane continued to improve (11 ppg, 5 rpg, 3 spg), as did the Cougars, who went 24-4 in 2008-09 before losing to Hickory in the second round of the playoffs.
Last year, Lane not only led the team with 17 points and 6 rebounds per game but earned ME-GA 7 Player of the Year honors as Catholic went 25-4 including a perfect 12-0 conference record before falling to eventual state champion Forestview in the regional semifinals in Greensboro.
Lane, 17, has been an integral part of a Cougar team that is 78-21 in three-plus years, including 38-2 in conference play.
"When you measure a great player against other great players, you always look at winning," said Conrad. Lane "has been a major part of a lot of wins here. That says a lot about Ali and her teammates and what they've been able to accomplish."
Lane, who plays AAU basketball for the Charlotte 76ers with Butler stars Aaliyah Kilpatrick and Jaymee Fisher-Davis, among others, also improved her talents over the summer when she traveled to France with a Charlotte-area all-star squad that included players like All-American Cierra Burdick.
"I've learned a lot this summer and on my AAU team by playing with some of the best players in Charlotte," Lane said. "You always want to measure up to those players and show that you belong."
Conrad and company hope to finish Lane's career in style by helping the senior win her fourth consecutive conference title and become one of the only Charlotte Catholic players to be all-conference all four seasons.
But Lane and the Cougars, currently 7-6 and 3-1 in ME-GA 7 (through Jan. 13), have their work cut out for them after losing all-conference stars Shawn-Marie Heiliger (signed with Wagner) and Lauren Kobiela (Colgate) to graduation.
"Ali, Shawn-Marie and Lauryn were and are a big part of the culture of competitiveness we have at Catholic," said Conrad, who is in his fifth year as head coach. "They created an intensity, whether in practice or in games, that builds a work ethic and an attitude in our girls that breeds winning."
Lane, a senior co-captain, is now the unquestioned leader of a team finding itself after enduring a tough non-conference slate.
Lane, who will play basketball at Western Carolina next year, is leading the way, averaging 14 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals per game as she has shifted from the wing to a point guard role.
Lane has looked for teammates like seniors Lizzie Henshaw and Rebecca King and freshmen Sophie Rossitch and Rachael Hendershott.
"Ali does everything for us," Conrad said. "She scores, rebounds, gets others involved, defends. The girls really look to her to set the tone for what we do. She has accepted that role."
Lane hopes to translate her leadership and talents into another run at a conference title and a deep playoff run in the 3A West bracket.
"I really want to try to leave my legacy at Catholic as a player that girls can look up to for a long time," Lane said. "I want people to think of me and think of winning. That's what people remember."