Atkins’ girls jump to 3A, battle for conference crown

Despite starting the season 0-4, the Camels have won nine of the last 10, and they’re battling for first place in their conference.

Atkins’ girls jump to 3A, battle for conference crown
February 03
09:05 2022

By Tevin Stinson

The Chronicle 

When Louis Lowery took the reins of the girls’ basketball program at Atkins High School in 2012, he had his work cut out for him. The team had lost 96 games in a row and were bottom feeders in the Northwest 1A Conference. In just two years Lowery turned things around. The 2014 squad posted a 17-5 record, the best in school history at the time.

“When I got here I had to rebuild a program that was 0-96 and we just kept building and getting better,” Lowery said. “It took about three years to start turning things around. The problem was we weren’t getting players that were ready to play, so the process was all about development.”

Coming into the 2021-2022 season, Lowery and Atkins faced their biggest challenge yet, moving up to 3A. And they have faced it head on. Despite starting the season 0-4, the Camels have won nine of the last 10, and they’re battling for first place in their conference.

Lowery said at the beginning of the season they were plagued by injuries, but it made the team stronger. “We had a lot of players on the injury list and then we had a couple of players who had concussions, so we didn’t have our full team,” Lowery said. 

“But I think in the long run it made our team better because some of the other players had to step up.”

The Camels are led by junior Layla Tillery, who leads the team in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. Coming into the season, Tillery, who is averaging 13 points, 7 rebounds, three steals and two blocks per game, said coming into the season her goal was to win, the individual stats just come with it. “That wasn’t my goal coming into the season. My goal was to help my team at least win the conference,” Tillery said.

When asked about the struggles early in the season, Tillery said the team has great chemistry and that’s what has helped them get over that rough start.

“Our team chemistry has definitely developed since the beginning of the season,” Tillery added. “After a slow start, we got to know each other better, then we started playing together.”

That chemistry was on full display on Tuesday, Feb. 2, when Atkins took on Eastern Guilford. From the tip to the final buzzer, the Camels were clicking on all cylinders. Propelled by some tough defense and some sharp shooting from junior Amy Veldiaz-Pedroza, Atkins defeated the Wildcats 54-37 and improved to 8-1 in the conference. Velidiaz-Pedroza, who recently returned from an ankle injury, scored the first nine points for the Camels and finished with 16 points.

After the game Veldiaz-Pedroza said she knew she was going to have a good game when she walked into the gym. “I felt the energy coming in,” she smiled.

Tillery, Aaryn Gabriel, and Talia Edmond also had stellar games for the Camels. Atkins has five more games in the regular season, including three more games this week, before gearing up for the conference tournament and state playoffs. They will face off against a talented Ben L. Smith team at home today (Thursday, Feb. 3), Northern Guilford on Friday and Southern Guilford at home, on Saturday.

Heading into this tough stretch of games, Lowery and his team seem confident that they will get the job done and reach their goal of being crowned conference champs. Lowery said whether he’s coaching 1A, 2A, or 3A, the preparation is still the same.

“We were beating 4A schools when we were 1A, so moving from 2A to 3A was just a thing,” Lowery explained. “As a coach I kinda know what to look for and you always prepare for the best. We want to keep it going … we believe we can win it so each game, that’s how we approach it.”

Senior Keyonna Wilson-Rhodie said if they play their game, they will reach their goal. “We just have to play our best game and we’ll come out on top.”

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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