South Charlotte

Ardrey Kell expects a conference challenge

The Southwest 4A conference girls' basketball title is up for grabs, and two teams figure to make sure there is a new regular-season champion.

Butler has been the conference winner for the past few seasons behind one of Mecklenburg County's best players ever, Cierra Burdick.

Burdick is gone, however, and while Butler still is very talented, they are not playing at the level they have in the past.

Myers Park is off to a hot start, and at No. 3 in the Sweet 16 is one of the better teams in the area.

Ardrey Kell is not far behind, and will challenge for the conference's top spot.

All-conference selections Oceania Anderson and Christelle Shembo - a Wake Forest signee - headline a group that is deeper than the Knights have been the last couple of years, thanks to two freshmen.

"I think we have shown that the pieces are there," said senior guard Katelyn White. "It is still the beginning of the year, and we have time to bring all of the pieces together to form a really good team."

White, Shembo and Anderson are the senior leaders for Ardrey Kell, but they see a different team from the one that went 20-7 a season ago and lost three of its last seven games.

"This year ... we are more of a team," said Anderson, who is averaging 11.2 points and 5.8 assists per game. "Last year our offense was sort of do-whatever, but this year we are running our plays and are far more disciplined."

Two big reasons for that discipline are freshmen point guard Jordan Muhammad and forward Raven Dean. Head coach Tina Lawrence said she knows having talented freshmen to push the seniors is a good setup.

"I can say the freshman have not played like freshman and have had a huge impact on how teams guard Christelle and how we can let Oceania run and get her looks from three," Lawrence said.

Shembo leads the team with 15 points and nearly 10 rebounds per game. White has been getting teammates involved and providing leadership, but the newcomers have had the biggest impact.

"Jordan is very mature and we trust her running our offense. ... She is going to make some mistakes, but she is a kid who is motivated by her mistakes and not someone who we have to worry about. She has all of our trust," Lawrence said.

Muhammad has the bloodlines to be a great athlete; she is the daughter of former Carolina Panthers player Muhsin Muhammad.

Dean is the Knights second-leading scorer, at 12.8 per game, and also averages mover than 5 rebounds. "She has toughness and aggressiveness built into her, and I don't think anyone who has seen her play would think she is a freshman," Lawrence said.

Lawrence said she can see this team coming together.

"Just because we have a star who is going to Wake Forest doesn't guarantee anything for this team, and I am starting to think that they get that," Lawrence said. "We have the talent but need to be a team."