Southern Poly women’s basketball coach Laquanda Dawkins feels her staff put together the right pieces, and the team is now reaping the success. The Hornets are 12-1 overall and 5-1 in the Southern States Athletic Conference.
“It goes to how well we recruited over the summer and our preparation for this year,” said Dawkins, the team’s third-year coach. “We recruited young ladies who fit our system extremely well. We brought in different types of skills and different styles of play to have the unit that we are currently having now.”
By continuing to bring in players who fit her system, Dawkins thinks Southern Poly can sustain the success — as long as the players stay healthy.
“Right now, we are just continuing to individually work with each athlete on the team with specifics within our system,” said Dawkins, a former player at North Carolina and, for 11 seasons, an NCAA Division I assistant. “We have been doing those things since September and we are having a great, successful year thus far.”
The Hornets finished the 2011-12 season with a 6-24 record — their first losing season since 2005-06.
Dawkins said she is pleased with the turnaround and credits the hard work that the players have put in.
Senior guard Ashlie Billingslea is the only returner from a year ago. She is currently averaging 15.6 points per game and leads the team in assists per game (4.9) and 3-pointers made (28).
“With Ashlie Billingslea being the only returner, we had high expectations for her to be the captain and the leader, and she has lived up to those,” said Dawkins. “We expected that of her.”
Other key contributors include junior guard Sarah Ogoke, junior forward Erica Turner and junior center Arnissa Galloway.
The 5-foot-9 Ogoke, a transfer from NCAA Division I Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, leads the Hornets in points (16.9), rebounds (10.5), steals (3.3) and blocked shots per game (1.2).
“Ogoke was kind of us surprise for us,” said Dawkins, who said it is odd for a guard to lead the team in rebounding. “She is doing a great job for us thus far.”
When recruiting players, Dawkins considered how well the player would fit with the Southern Poly system more than where they were coming from.
Billingslea is one of just two players from Georgia. Ogoke hails from Texas, and others come from Tennessee, Mississippi and Illinois. All of the players have experience playing at the college or junior college level, with Ogoke, Billingslea (Mississippi State) and Alexandria Prince (Memphis) transfers from NCAA teams.
“It all came down to our style of play and the type of personnel we needed to fill the voids that we had,” Dawkins said, “being an athletic team and being able to press people and transition and having the skills players who can drive in or pull up for jump shots. Players who can pull out and shoot the 3 and create. Also, to have players who can play the post for an inside presence, we are just big with versatility.
“We like to recruit young ladies who can play different positions.”
Dawkins said Southern Poly likes to play a fast-paced game, focusing on transition opportunities.
“We like to put our players in positions where, offensively, they can make plays,” she said. “We look to scramble defensively and push the tempo and ignite some steals.”
One of the goals the team set for the season is returning to the NAIA tournament after missing out last season. Dawkins said every game is a big one in conference play, but rivalry games against opponents like Lee, Coastal Georgia and Emmanuel bring the most excitement and pressure.
Southern Poly will also have the pressure of playing in the biggest venue the program has ever seen.
On Jan. 21, the Hornets will play SSAC rival Southern Wesleyan inside Time Warner Cable Arena, home of the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats.
It will be a tripleheader of basketball games on Martin Luther King Day, with the Bobcats playing the Houston Rockets at 2 p.m., followed by the women’s game at 5 p.m. and a men’s game involving the same two schools at 7 p.m.
Despite the pressure of playing such big games, the Hornets’ coach is taking a simple philosophy.
“We just have to take it one game at a time,” Dawkins said.