WBB: Akila Smith #13

Junior forward Akila Smith attempts a layup at a home game against Presbyterian on March 10, 2020.

After the Longwood women’s basketball team began their 2020-2021 campaign with an 0-4 start, things did not look good, but as the saying goes: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Since then, they have won eight out of eleven games and are currently riding a three-game winning streak. They also currently lead the Big South in scoring offense, free throw percentage, rebounding offense and blocked shots. 

Coach Rebecca Tillett spoke on her team’s mid-season turnaround. “We knew we had a really challenging non-conference schedule, so our focus as a staff and as a team was learning from the non-conference games because everything you do is preparation for conference play. Our players have a lot more confidence in the bank after their recent success.”

Due to how the schedule panned out this season, the team was granted a two-week break in the middle of the year, with them last playing on January 16, and their next game not being until January 29. Tillett spoke on how the team is staying fresh and keeping the momentum going during this time off. “This break in the middle of the season fits with 2020 and 2021. We plan to put something new in to increase player interest. We also plan to use this time to rest and recover. If you could pick a time to have it, this would be it.” 

Tillett went on to mention that there are several players, as well as moments, that have helped to drive the team’s comeback. One such player was junior forward Akila Smith, and one such moment was her triple-double against Winthrop where she put up 14 points, 13 rebounds and 11 blocks. “Akila has remained very consistent in her ability to impact the game in so many ways. Her approach to the game and her serious mindset have been good for our team.”

Smith spoke on her performance in which she broke a program record for blocks in a game. “It felt really good, especially to get the team win. I knew I got it towards the end of the fourth quarter and one of my teammates told me that I had a block and two rebounds to go. By then, I knew I was well on my way to a triple-double.”

Smith added her own perspective on the team’s turnaround this season, attributing it to the team becoming more focused and executing the game plan. She also commented on her team’s long break in the middle of the season and how they’re staying sharp. “We practice every other day and go really hard in practice and we get in extra shots on our days off just to keep our bodies going.”

Smith also provided her input on what the team can do to keep the momentum going once they resume play. “Just play defense. Take pride in our defense and how we do our offense and we will be unstoppable.” The women’s basketball team is set to take on Presbyterian at 6:00 p.m. on Friday, January 29 on ESPN+. 

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