Cierra York of Winston-Salem helps Livingstone women shine

Cierra York of Winston-Salem helps Livingstone women shine
February 19
00:00 2015
(Above: Photo by Livingstone College Athletics, Cierra York of Livingstone glides to the basket for a lay-up.)

As a basketball player, Cierra York of Winston-Salem knows all about lean times. That’s because her first three seasons at Livingstone College are memorable for all the wrong reasons.

During that torturous stretch of 82 games, the Lady Blue Bears posted a forgettable winning percentage of .329.

Up until last weekend, this current season was one for the record books. York’s team was the sizzling-hot topic of CIAA women’s basketball.  Livingstone was 22-0 and No. 5 in the USA Today Division II national rankings for the week of Feb. 10.

The dream season, however, quickly turned into a nightmare. The school conducted an internal investigation and discovered that the women’s team had used an ineligible player.

Livingstone forfeited 18 games and its once-perfect record went to 4-18. On the day after the school publicized its finding, the Lady Blue Bears suffered their first on-the-court loss of the season to Johnson C. Smith (70-66).

Kyra Crosby, a gifted power forward who led the team in scoring and rebounding, has been ruled ineligible. Initially, Crosby played at Alabama then transferred to Georgia State prior to her arrival at Livingstone.

York and Coach Anita Howard declined to comment about the infraction because the school’s investigation is still in progress.

Even with all that has happened, York remains upbeat. With two games left to play in the regular season, she’s confident that Livingstone will regroup. Winning next week’s CIAA Tournament, she explained, is not a case of wishful thinking.

“Getting adjusted to the bad news is hard,” said York, an All-CIAA pick last season and All-Rookie in 2012. “Our record has changed, but there’s still some season left and the (CIAA) tournament. We know how to win and we know what winning feels like. It all comes down to us playing good basketball and allowing our performance to speak for itself. Our goals to win the CIAA and go to the NCAA Tournament haven’t changed. But regardless of what goes on, we’re a family, and we’ll stick together.”

York, who played at Winston-Salem Prep, has performed at an all-star level during her college career with the Lady Blue Bears. Through 23 games, the 5-foot-8 senior guard averaged 12.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.7 steals per game.

Earlier in her career, York posted better numbers. But now that Livingstone has more scoring on the roster, there’s no need for York to go solo as often as she did in past seasons. Aside from York, the Lady Blue Bears have ample firepower with newcomers Amber Curtis (12.3 points) and Precious Roberts (11.9 points).

“At first, it was difficult to adjust,” York confessed. “I’ve always been the one who was expected to take over offensively. But I’ve learned to share the basketball. Now, I get very excited when my teammates go off (scoring). The defense has to focus on stopping them, which creates more openings for everyone else and that makes the game easier. I’m thrilled to finally have a team that I fit in well with.”

First-year coach Anita Howard has a deep appreciation of York’s value as a key ingredient and steadying influence on and off the court. Howard refers to York as the respected veteran voice who’s been the go-to player on a struggling program for most of her college career.

“Cierra is the epitome of what we try to instill in our newcomers,” said Howard. “She’s the old soul who keeps everybody grounded and humbled. Anytime she’s on the floor – whether it’s in practice or in a game – she plays hard and she plays with a lot of pride.

Howard’s coming to Livingstone represents a re-connect of sorts for the coach and York. Having conducted a summer workout with York while she was in high school, Howard was impressed with her outside shooting. As an assistant at Shaw, she attempted to sign the former

Phoenix playmaker. But York opted to join the Lady Blue Bears instead.

When York learned last spring that Howard would be the new Livingstone coach, she was ecstatic. “Knowing Coach Howard’s background, I knew that she’d come in and make things happen,” said York, a biology major who has a 3.1 grade-point average.

“There was never a doubt in my mind that things would begin to change for the better in her very first year.”

Not long after her arrival on campus, Howard wasted no time outlining her expectations. The new coach wanted York to further fine-tune her game, which in turn, would help accelerate

Livingstone’s turnaround. For that to happen, York and everybody else would have to fully embrace the concept of doing more in every facet of the sport.

“Cierra needed to speed up the release on her jump shot,” said Howard. “Once opponents found out how good a shooter she is, defenders started closing out on her very quickly. As a result, she ended up taking fewer shots.

Developing a quicker release, though, was just one of the items she needed to work on.

As a guard, she has the size to grab more rebounds and she’s doing a good job with that.”

Howard understands how hungry York is to win a conference championship.

York is keenly aware her new coach’s handiwork at Salem College. Under Howard’s watch, the Spirits went from being worst to first in two program-changing seasons.

So, the two made a pact. Howard promised York that she would bring in the needed pieces to help Livingstone become a legitimate CIAA title contender. In response, York promised Howard that she would help deliver a

conference tournament championship, which would be the first for the Livingstone women since 2000.

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Craig Greenlee

Craig Greenlee

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