The Lady Cardinals turned things around, going 24-6 — an 11-game improvement from the year before — en route to winning the Region 5AAAA crown and advancing to the second round of the Class AAAA state tournament.
This season, Osborne isn’t sneaking up on
At 12-1, the Lady Cardinals are off to one of their best starts in their history, eclipsed only by the 2008-09 team that started 17-0. Osborne is getting contributions from up and down a roster that features three seniors, four juniors, three sophomores and three freshmen.
“This year’s team has more experience,” said coach Melanie Samuel about the differences since last season. “A lot of these girls have been there before, and they know what it takes to win and play like a team. They have athleticism and a high basketball IQ, which is always important.
“I’m not surprised by our start. The team we had last year was pretty good, and this one is, too. We have some good new talent into the program that had experience at the junior level, and they’re using those skills here.”
The most notable influx of talent has been freshman point guard Zutorya Cook, who is averaging 19.2 points, 7.1 assists, 5.8 rebounds and a remarkable 9.3 steals per game.
“She’s a freshman coming in for us who had a good year in our junior program,” Samuel said. “She was also the point guard on her eighth-grade AAU national championship team.”
The remainder of the starting unit includes sophomore Nikira Goings, senior Malea Maye and juniors Jazzmon Rouse and Ravon Brown.
Goings leads Osborne with 19.5 points per game, and she’s also contributing 5.8 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 5.0 steals per contest.
“Zutorya and Nikira are leading us right now and contributing a lot for us,” Samuel said. “Zutorya handles the ball well and is hard to check. Nikira is so versatile on the floor. She can hit the 3-pointer and can slash to the basket, so she’s tough to guard, too.
“Malea is our senior leader. She’s an outstanding rebounder, gets a lot of her points off the boards and makes herself available when our guards penetrate and distribute the ball. Jazzmon has been on varsity since she was a freshman and she keeps getting better. Ravon is a transfer from Pope that has fit in well with what we do.
“They’re all doing well. It’s a good balance.”
Other players in the mix for Osborne have included freshman guard Allison Powell, a strong defender off the bench, and sophomore post Alexis Singletary. But after playing through a knee injury she suffered over the summer, Singletary’s parents opted for her to undergo surgery the day after Christmas, so Samuel will look to senior wing player Shanice Harris to round out the rotation.
“We have other girls stepping up,” Samuel said. “We were on an eight-player rotation, so now it’s seven, but we’ll see who else will step up.”
Because of its up-tempo style and pressure defense, Osborne is averaging 64.5 points per game while holding opponents to an average of 36 entering tonight’s Region 7AAAAA game at Forsyth Central.
Samuel doesn’t mince words when it comes to the expectations she has for the team. Her goals are to win the region championship again and bring a state title to Osborne.
Samuel feels this team has the kind of talent to make that happen.
“January is a tough month, but if we play well, we can set ourselves up for a strong February,” she said. “Our goal is to win region and get a state championship. We went to the sweet 16 last year but lost to Rome. Our goal is to do better than that, and I believe we can.”