The first time Baptist Hill girls basketball coach Cesurian Champagne walked into the school's gymnasium, she looked at the banners hanging from the rafters and noticed it had been a while since the Bobcats had won a region championship.
As a matter of fact, it's been more than a decade since their last title. The last time was in 2001, a fact she pointed out to her team during their first preseason practice.
"I always expect greatness out of my teams, and the first thing I told them was it's been too long since we won a region title," Champagne said. "So, every day that's all I look at, the 2001 banner, and tell the girls, 'we need another one this season.' "
With one week left in the regular season, the Bobcats are 16-1 and 11-1 in Region 6-A, and poised to win their first league title in 11 years.
Not bad for a program that has had just one winning season over the last four years.
This is Champagne's third head coaching job, but her first season at Baptist Hill. She had previously been a head coach at James Island and Military Magnet. As a result, Champagne knew the nucleus was in place.
"I knew this team had talent," Champagne said. "The problem was to get everyone on the same page and to get them to understand their roles. Once they bought into what we were trying to do, I knew we'd have a pretty good team. The girls are so humble and so eager to learn. They are constantly asking me questions. They want to work hard and they want to get better. They're never satisfied."
The Bobcats don't have a lot of depth -- they have just nine players on their roster -- but all nine get on the floor and play every game.
"We're nine strong," Champagne said. "Everybody gets about the same amount of playing time, so everyone is competing to get more playing time. It makes for some intense practices."
Like most playoff-caliber teams, the Bobcats rely on a smothering defense to win.
"We press teams all over the floor," Champagne said. "We're a defensive-minded team. The offense feeds off of our defense."
Senior guard Brittney Smalls is the catalyst, averaging 13.9 points, 2.8 steals and 2.7 assists a game.
"She's a leader by example," Champagne said. "She doesn't talk a lot, but she's our floor leader. The other girls look up to her."
Shalandria Middleton is the defending Region 6-A player of the year, but comes off the bench this season for the Bobcats. She's averaging 10.2 points and seven rebounds.
"We needed to redefine her role," Champagne said. "She understands why we want her to come off the bench and has embraced her new role. She's our garbage player. She does all the dirty things around the basket."
Finally, there's Keona Wright, who averages less than four points a game, but might be the Bobcats' MVP.
"She does all the things that don't show up in the scorebook but are essential for a team to win," Champagne said. "She sets the tone for a lot of what we do defensively. I call her our silent assasssin."