Junior point guard Jada Smoot has emerged as a leader for the Westerville South High School girls basketball team.
Led by Smoot and sophomore guard Chenelle Moore, the Wildcats are looking for consistency as the Division I district tournament nears. The tournament begins Feb. 16.
The Wildcats were 6-11 overall and 4-6 in the OCC-Cardinal Division before playing Dublin Scioto on Jan. 29.
"We're not worried about our record, we're just getting ready for the tournament," Smoot said. "We're trying to be the underdogs. Everybody has been doubting us since the season started."
Smoot shares captain duties with senior guard Chyna Porter and senior post player Brianna Wendell.
"I lead my team and I try to make sure everybody is in their places, and I help them out, come in and shoot with them and give them pointers," Smoot said.
Coach Silas Williams said he has been pleased with Smoot's development as a player and leader.
"Confidence in the point guard instills confidence in your team as well," Williams said. "She's really starting to learn that part of it, being our first-year leader. She came off the bench last year and she's starting to relay that a little bit to her players."
Five of the team's first 10 losses were by eight points or fewer, including a 36-34 loss at home against Westerville Central on Jan. 5. Despite shooting 23.1 percent from the field and 28.5 percent from the free-throw line, South had numerous chances in the closing minutes to pull out the win.
The teams meet again Wednesday, Feb. 6, at Central.
Smoot and her teammates are looking forward to the rematch.
"We try to look towards the future and leave the other games behind," Smoot said. "We have to play harder, give a better effort and don't think they're just going to hand it to us. We have to go get it."
Other close losses have been against Dublin Scioto (59-52 in overtime Dec. 22) and Hilliard Davidson (44-37 on Dec. 29 in the championship game of the Lady Viking Holiday Classic at Teays Valley). Scioto (OCC-Cardinal) and Davidson (OCC-Central) are contending for league titles.
Smoot scored 24 points against Scioto.
"We've just had some ups and downs," said Smoot, who also competes on the school's girls soccer, cross country and track and field teams. "Chemistry has been falling apart, but we're trying to put it back together."
South lost four players from a year ago to graduation, including leading scorers Morgan Neighbors (12.7 points per game) and Erica Aiello (8.4). In addition, Williams said junior post player Cara Calland won't play this season because of a left wrist injury from soccer season.
Smoot and Moore are attempting to fill the void. Through 17 games, Moore was averaging 11.1 points and Smoot was averaging 8.5.
Smoot plays the sport year-round -- she also is a member of the Ohio Lady Jayhawks, an AAU team -- and has a goal of playing at the collegiate level. She has received interest from Division II and III schools, but her dream is to play for the University of Tennessee.
"She's very serious about the game of basketball," Williams said. "If we can get her to Tennessee I would love to see it, but she has some work to do. She has her work cut out for her, but nothing is impossible."
Boys team defeats Bradley
Forward Marcus Ball scored 16 points to lead the South boys team to a 73-35 win over visiting Hilliard Bradley on Jan. 25.
Forward Matt Chellis scored 14 points and guard Kyran McClure scored 10.
"We played well," coach Ed Calo said. "We do not take for granted any opponent. We know that we must improve every time out and our players played with that in mind. Our schedule was tough to this point and we will finish with a tough schedule. Every game will bring a unique challenge and we are looking forward to that."
The Wildcats also defeated Bradley 62-38 on Dec. 14.