By Brian Paglia
After Woodland made five 3-pointers in the second half of its 50-16 victory over Locust Grove in the first round of the Region 4-AAA tournament Wednesday, Lady Wolfpack coach Thomas McLaurin said his team isn't a 3-point shooting team by nature, but it can be. If Woodland finds an open look beyond the arc, McLaurin isn't adverse to his players taking the shot.
"If they have an open shot, they know they have the green light to shoot," McLaurin said. "I try to get them to not force the shots."
Woodland embraced that mentality in the second half, especially sophomore guard Jasmine Strozier, who hit three 3s and scored 11 of her game-high 14 points in the half. With enough defense to rattle the Lady Wildcats' young roster -- Woodland forced 23 Locust Grove turnovers -- the Lady Wolfpack cruised into its second round contest against No. 2-seed Rutland on Friday.
The win gave Woodland consecutive victories for just the second time this season. But perhaps of more importance, it maintained the momentum and confidence the Lady Wolfpack gained in its regular season finale 48-46 upset victory of region leader and No. 10-ranked Maynard Jackson.
"That gave us a lot of confidence," McLaurin said. "We'd played them tough a couple times before, but came up short, and we knew that they had some real good ballplayers. But it showed our character in that we have a never-say-die attitude."
That attitude helped Woodland endure a dismal stretch in which it went 3-12 from Dec. 21 to Feb. 9 and sent it plummeting in the region standings.
But McLaurin tempered his expectations of his team going into the season. He expected Woodland to end the season near the middle of the standings, which it did at 7-11 in region play.
He expected that because of the youth and inexperience still prevalent on his roster in the program's third year. In Wednesday's game, Woodland's starting lineup consisted of a senior, a junior, two sophomores and a freshman. The biggest contributors off the bench were four sophomores -- Kayla Woods, Kristyn Cherry, Cianna Cooper and Courtney Vaughn, who combined to score 16 points.
"We know we're young," McLaurin said. "We know we're athletic and we have some talent. But once we put it together, we know we can play with anybody in our region."