02/18/09 — Conqueror girls charge into final eight

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Conqueror girls charge into final eight

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on February 18, 2009 1:46 PM

A 3-5 start.

A three-game losing streak.

A loss against a lower-tier region foe.

Eddie Smith wondered if Faith Christian could reverse its early-season misfortunes and challenge for a state-playoff bid. After all, with five seniors -- including four returning starters -- on the court, the Conquerors were expected to make a run this season.

"This year I thought we could return to the state tournament because we've got five seniors," said Smith. "If we didn't do it this year, I didn't know when we could."

Smith's doubts disappeared after a surprising defeat against Neuse Christian. Faith Christian reeled off six consecutive wins and had the streak snapped by Trinity-Greenville. But the Conquerors rebounded to claim four victories over a five-day stretch, and secured the No. 1 seed from the N.C. Christian Schools Association Coastal 2-A region.

"I can't ever recall any of my teams winning 10 of 11 games in one stretch," said Smith. "We've got something good going right now."

Faith Christian (13-6 overall) captured its first regional championship since 2001 and fourth overall since 1999. The Conquerors are making their first state tournament appearance since 2006.

Smith's team opposes Mountain Region runner-up New Manna in quarter-final round play Thursday. Tip-off is 4:30 p.m. at Oak Level, which is in the Winston-Salem area. A victory assures the Conquerors of playing two additional games -- either the state championship or third-place contest depending on Friday's outcomes.

"I don't know if I ever had a state championship in mind," said Smith. "I set some goals for the team after Christmas. We talked about finishing high in the region and if we did that, we could make the state playoffs."

Faith Christian's success has been due to its bench play. Younger reserves have not necessarily provided points, but quality minutes. The veteran players have gotten much-needed breaks and they've returned to the court with fresher legs, which has allowed them to execute on both sides of the ball.

Smith said a 1-2-1-1, three-quarter trap has also been effective.

"We've been getting our hands on everything ... getting turnovers and layups, and getting people in foul trouble," said Smith. "In some games, it slowed teams down and in other games, it created offense (for us)."

And the Conquerors, in turn, have limited their turnovers.

"We made the games more manageable limiting our mistakes," said Smith.

Senior Alyssa Hill, who plays shooting wing, is averaging a double-double -- 14 points, 15 rebounds -- for the Conquerors. Point guard Lindsey Godwin contributes nearly 11 points an outing.

Rebecca Smith, coach Smith's daughter and Kaitlyn Floars put in a couple of baskets each game. Junior Madison Caudle, the team's tallest player at 5 foot 9, contributes eight points and six boards.

Sixth man Jennifer Christopher gives the Conquerors quality minutes with her athleticism. A right-handed pitcher, Christopher has guided Faith Christian to three consecutive NCCSA 2-A state softball championships.

Overall, Smith tries to utilize his entire 14-player roster.

"It's a good group of girls and most of the time they try to do anything I ask them to do," said Smith. "If it doesn't work, I tell them it's my fault and we try something else. They've got a good work ethic and are good students.

"They've made it an enjoyable year. Setting the goals and seeing them to come pass (is great)."

Since 2003, Faith Christian has grabbed five state championships in three sports. In addition to softball, the baseball team won the 2003 crown and the boys' basketball team reigned supreme in 2007.