CHARLOTTE – Since Josh Springer arrived at Providence Day 13 seasons ago, the Chargers have mostly been the top dog in the CISAA as they’ve won all but one league title.
This year, the Chargers are at it again, but on Jan. 10 they faced a big conference test from Country Day, the newcomers to the top-of-the-league discussion who starts two freshmen, two sophomores and a senior.
The Bucs certainly looked the part of spoiler early as they jumped out to an early 17-12 lead.
“They’ve got some new kids that have come in and really make a difference,” Springer said. “And their ball pressure early was bothering us, but I thought our kids settled down at halftime.”
Providence Day’s El Ferguson hit a 3-pointer before halftime to tie the score and Kailey Smith scored the first basket of the second half to give the Chargers a 19-17 lead they would never give back.
Senior Morgan Kelson led the Chargers with 15 points and added five rebounds and two steals.
“I thought our kids settled in at halftime and I thought we had some great composure pounding it inside to Morgan,” Springer said. “We got (freshman point guard) Chandler (Brooks) going off ball screens toward the basket and our defensive pressure turned up and we were able to force some turnovers and get some easy baskets.”
The Bucs were also hampered when star freshman point guard Laila Hankerson picked up her fourth foul just 1:27 into the third quarter.
After Hankerson, Country Day’s leading scorer, went out, Providence Day went on a 21-5 run to blow the lead out to 38-22.
“They’ve went on a (big) run in the third quarter by just being more aggressive than we were, but the other three quarters were dead-on even like it was supposed to be,” Country Day coach Andre Haston said. “I told the girls to pick their heads up. They did just what they’re supposed to do by winning on their home floor and now we have to get them when they come to our place.
“I’m extremely proud of my team as young as we are and beating the teams we’ve beaten. I think for a while we were flying under the radar, but I think we’re starting to come from underneath it so the girls have to understand that teams are going to come at us compared to before. They’re learning on the fly, we’re still only starting freshmen and sophomores, but their working their butt off and getting better game-by-game, practice-by-practice and that’s all I can ask for.”
Hankerson led Country Day with 16 points, 11 of which came in the second half, and Kennedy Grier added 12 for the Bucs, who drop to 12-5 overall and 0-2 in league play after losing on the road to Cannon, another highly regarded CISAA team.
“We can still go 8-2 in conference,” Haston said. “Cannon is going to be tough so it should be between us Cannon and PD and who can pull out those games. We just have to do our job on our homecourt. We’re unbeaten at home, so we have to keep doing that and we’re fine.”
As for the Chargers, they improved to 12-6 overall and 2-0 in league play, but Springer knows there is still work to do.
Kelson (12.7 points and 6.8 rebounds per game) is the Chargers star along with senior Andi Levitz (12.8 points), but this team has a number of things going for it.
“In years past, we may have had a couple of kids really carrying the bulk of the mail, but this year we have 13 kids on the roster and we’re playing 10 kids every single game,” Springer said. “Our depth has been an outstanding strength for us and we really want to take advantage of that from players one through 10.
“We have a lot of room for growth and we have to guard a little better, but I love our team. We have a phenomenal group of seniors. We have six seniors, which is the most we’ve had in 13 years I’ve been here. We’re getting contributions from everyone.”
With eight conference games to go, both teams expect to be in the mix the rest of the way, but it’s a familiar spot to the Chargers.
“I don’t know if our conference has ever been as competitive,” Springer said. “There are a number of teams who can compete at a high level, we just have to stay humble and hungry.”