By now, her fourth season of varsity basketball, you would think Southern senior Alicia Groveston has seen and done it all on the hardwood for the Bulldogs.
Her resume certainly indicates so: Two trips to the state tournament, having played every position on the court, and offensive numbers that have improved with each year.
Yet here she is -- the only starter back from last season's state semifinalist -- playing with a new starting cast and a fresh outlook.
Groveston and the Bulldogs are digging in to that new challenge with a 3-1 start, including winning their county opener Tuesday, 53-50, over North County.
"For me, it's been a learning experience. I'm learning to take on many different roles," said the 5-foot-7 Groveston. "I've played every position, so wherever I'm needed, I will play. I'm trying to help out any way possible -- rebounding, passing, scoring, whatever we need."
Last season, senior guard Tiffany Neal was the primary scorer, and 6-0 senior center Tameka Graves took care of most of the work on the boards. Southern coach Linda Kilpatrick said whatever contribution she got from the versatile Groveston (10 points, 10 rebounds, two or three steals and assists a game) was a plus.
This season, the focus is directed straight at Groveston.
"The last three [seasons], she was part of a supporting cast," said Kilpatrick, who is in her 23rd season coaching the Bulldogs. "This year, she has a much different role. The thing I emphasized to her before the season started was that she didn't have to carry the burden of doing all the scoring.
"I would much rather see her lead the team in assists," said Kilpatrick. "She's like having a coach on the floor. Her court sense is something you can't coach. She knows where everyone needs to be and gets them there."
The leadership role is something Groveston has thrived on with fellow senior co-captain Jessica Pott. Four seniors, four juniors, five sophomores and three freshmen comprise the Bulldogs roster.
"We try to influence the younger kids on what they have to do and how they have to do it," said Groveston. "This year is going to be tough, but our team is going to be fine because we're all busting our butts. We want to play as a team and prove something to ourselves and nobody else. We're here to play, and all love the game."
Freshman Kristen Bowie, the first player off the bench for the Bulldogs, finds herself in the same situation Groveston was four years ago.
"Being one of the freshmen on varsity, the first ones since her, Alicia knows how we feel," she said. "During practice, she keeps us going, making sure we're always where we need to be and doing the right things. She keeps us loose and helps us relax -- she's a real leader."
With a small lineup, Groveston has played mostly at center this season but will still jump out to make the most out of matchups on offense. Defensively, she relies on her court savvy to box out bigger players to hold her own beneath the basket.
"I just have to play smart and keep myself out of foul trouble," she said. "Not having a lot of height, we're staying with more of a perimeter game because we're extremely quick. We're making a lot of changes and seeing what works, but our press is still the main thing."
Kilpatrick is confident everything will fall into place by playoff time in March. At least once before, she lost five senior starters to graduation and finished the following season above .500. With Groveston, Kilpatrick is one up.
"You can't do it from the sideline every single second, so you need a floor leader out there to take charge. It's great to have a player like Alicia who can grab the ball and say, 'Get out of the way for a minute,'" said Kilpatrick.
"I look forward to a year like this. It's like being the underdog and not having any pressure on you. Everything you do is a plus, and you can catch some people by surprise."
Groveston, a three-sport standout who has 10 varsity letters in field hockey, basketball and lacrosse, said a highlight has been her time spent at UMBC for the state basketball tournament.
"I'll never forget walking into that gym knowing you've made it there, knowing you're one of the four best teams in your bracket," she said. "The competition level goes up so much. It's a great feeling."
Is a return trip in the works?
"We're going to find a way to carve our own path," said Groveston. "This team has the potential of being great. Whether it is this year or the years to come, I know I can come back to watch them and say, 'Wow, I helped in making this team.'"
Pub Date: 12/17/98