CHARLOTTE – Since taking over an already successful Ardrey Kell girls basketball program prior to the 2014-15 season, coach Jeff Buseick has more than carried on the tradition.
Each of his four completed seasons have produced at least 24 wins as he’s led the Knights to records of 25-3, 24-7, 24-7 and 25-4 last year.
That team graduated three seasoned senior starters, forcing Buseick to shuffle his roster and put players in much different roles than they had last year.
But the Knights came out of the gates hot, going 9-1 with their only loss coming to So. Meck 7 leading Providence.
Over the holiday break, though, the Knights went 1-3 in one stretch playing some of the state’s top teams. But, Buseick said, his team is playing its best basketball of the season as Ardrey Kell has now won seven of its past eight games after holding off rival South Meck on Feb. 1 and manhandling Harding on Feb. 5.
“We take a long look at the process and at the season,” Buseick said. “We’re trying to play our best basketball in March and hopefully we’re trending that way.”
The Knights came out hot on the road at South Meck, looking to avenge a loss to the Sabres during that tough stretch around the New Year.
The Knights are 21-3 against the Sabres over the past 24 games, but ended a two-game losing streak to South Meck with their 52-50 victory.
Ardrey Kell had controlled the game from the opening tip. They were cruising late in the third quarter when they went up 45-31 to take their biggest lead.
South Meck would come back, outscoring the Knights 19-7 the rest of the way, but still coming up just short despite Senali Moss (scored 15 of her 17 in the second half) and Sharia Gaddy (17 points) who played great for the Sabres.
“We have to play four quarters,” Buseick said. “I think we did that for the most part. We did better at that than we did last time. We had some trouble boxing out, and I think we did a pretty good job on the boards. They’re a tough team, it’s a tough gym and coach (Cristie) Mitchell does a great job with them.”
Sophomores Michelle Ojo (16 points) and Lucy Vanderbeck (13 points) were both in double figures in the win and have been keys to the Knights as they look to run their program’s 20-plus win streak to its ninth season.
“We have great players every year. Players make plays and every year, we have players that step up and buy into what we’re doing,” Buseick said. “But (Ojo and Vanderbeck) have been great. They are still sophomores, and they’re playing more minutes and different roles than they had been. As young kids, they are learning new things every time they step out on the floor. They’ve been huge for us.”
The Knights had no letdown from their close win over South Meck on Feb. 5, when they drubbed Harding 73-30.
Junior Evan Miller led the way in that win with 13 points and seven rebounds in that game, but Vanderbeck (10 points and four assists), Ojo (nine points, six rebounds and five blocks) and junior Meghan Rogers (eight points, eight assists and six rebounds) all played well.
The Knights will close the regular season at home against Berry on Feb. 8 and Olympic on Feb. 10.