Woodland right on schedule

From Staff Reports

When Woodland girls basketball coach Thomas McLaurin started the Lady Wolfpack program in 2007, he knew it would take three to four years before the team could start to reach its potential.

Looks like Woodland is right on schedule.

After a pair of close wins over the weekend -- a 37-32 win over Union Grove on Friday, and a 41-39 win at Stockbridge on Saturday -- the Lady Wolfpack (8-0, 3-0 Region 3A-AAAA) are the only undefeated girls basketball team left in the Southern Crescent.

"I think we are turning a corner," McLaurin said, "to take this to the promise that I foresaw when I first took this job."

Woodland's path from creation to now was predictably tough. The Lady Wolfpack went from 0-14 to 6-21 to 9-18 last season, and they're already one win away from matching that total.

"It's taken a minute for me to get a solid foundation with our program," McLaurin said. "I've got two excellent assistant coaches that come with experience, that come with high energy and with the determination to fulfill the dream that I had when I first took this job, in Kelli Poff and Ashley Maddox.

"I also know that the girls have finally bought into the attitude of winners win the last game. The last game is the championship game. So that's what they do. They find a way to win, they find a way to keep scrapping."

Indeed, Woodland found a way to win Friday night against Union Grove after squandering an 11-point halftime lead. Woodland even found a way to win despite having a significant height disadvantage with starting center Bendrea Willis out due to a family issue.

The Lady Wolfpack were out-rebounded, 33-14, but used their quickness to force Union Grove into making tough passes, which resulted in 23 turnovers.

McLaurin said Woodland has never lacked shooters. Sophomore Morgan Jones and junior Jasmine Strozier are oversized guards with three-point range. What was missing was a consistent intensity on defense.

"I've got shooters," McLaurin said, "but we really focus on defense."

McLaurin knows how to build a winner. He was the boys basketball coach at Austin Roads Middle from 1998-2004, helping to develop much of the talent that played on successful Stockbridge boys basketball teams.

When he looks at the talent he has at Woodland, he sees good things in store.

"I have a couple of jayvee players that are just as smart ... as some of these girls I have," McLaurin said. "So we're going to be doing good for the next couple of years."